Nitish Kumar shouldn’t have opted for CM post; with eroding status, he will be shadow of what he was before

Perhaps the best course for Nitish Kumar would have been to retire gracefully instead of opting for another term as chief minister during which he is bound to be seen as being at BJP’s beck and call

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar
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Amulya Ganguli/IPA

Having suffered electoral reverses in Bihar because of the anti-incumbency factor, Nitish Kumar has no alternative but to bow down to the BJP’s wishes if only because the latter has emerged as a much stronger party than before, having evaded the taint of anti-incumbency apparently by virtue of the prime minister’s “astronomical” popularity, as a saffron writer described Narendra Modi’s appeal.

Perhaps the best course for Nitish Kumar would have been to retire gracefully instead of opting for yet another term as chief minister during which he is bound to be seen as being at the BJP’s beck and call. The BJP may not want him to walk into the sunset any time soon if only because it will not like to lose yet another ally after having lost three of them in recent times – the Shiv Sena, the Akali Dal and the Lok Janshakti Party.

But there is little doubt that the BJP will be breathing heavily down the chief minister’s neck, making it abundantly clear as to who is the boss. Time will show how Nitish Kumar will accept such a humiliating position in the government where two deputy chief ministers may well turn out to be the real power centres. But, in the end, history may demonstrate the veracity of British politician Enoch Powell’s gloomy prediction that “every political career ends in failure”.

Ironically, it was to avoid playing such a subservient role that Nitish Kumar left the earlier “secular” combine because he resented being overshadowed by Lalu Prasad Yadav and his son, Tejashwi, who was the deputy chief minister. But he appears to have jumped from the frying pan to the fire.

His calculation that he will be able to keep the BJP in check with his image of being “sushasan babu” who is against both corruption and communalism has misfired. Perhaps too long a stint at the helm and the apparent fragility of his opponents with Laloo Prasad in jail had convinced him that he was well place to win another spell in office on his own terms.

But Tejashwi’s unexpected rise proved to be the “X” factor which nullified his complacency. Suddenly, he found himself as the receiving end of unpopularity which he clearly did not expect in view of his image as the great survivor and realized that he was at the BJP’s mercy.

He might have been spared the humiliation of playing second fiddle to the BJP if the mahagathbandhan (grand alliance) hadn’t stumbled just before the last hurdle. But, now, Nitish Kumar will have to swallow his pride and pretend that all is well.

But he will no longer be able to contradict Yogi Adityanath’s observations against the Muslim ghuspetriyas (infiltrators) or persuade the state legislature to pass a resolution against implementing the National Register of Citizens (NRC) or updating the National Population Register (NPR)). If the BJP was caught off-guard at the time, it may now not only ensure that there is no such lapse, but also overturn the assembly’s earlier stand.

Nitish Kumar will also realize that the people of Bihar and especially the supporters of his own party, the Janata Dal (United), will closely watch out for any signs of the chief minister being pushed around by the BJP. Any such indication cannot but enhance the mahagathbandhan’s prospects although the latter will first have to get its act together in the matter of being a cohesive group.

Nothing will show Tejashwi’s political calibre to greater effect than being able to keep the alliance afloat when it has to cope with two contradictory factors - one positive and the other negative. The Left’s resurgence falls in the first category while the Congress’s ineptness is a burden. But politics is rarely a one-way street and a leader has to make the best of a given situation.

The BJP, on its part, will also know that for all the praise that it is heaping on itself, the ruling alliance’s victory was a narrow one and that it faces a spirited new challenger in Tejashwi. The party will also have to play the role of Big Brother with care – at least for the next two years – and also look out for any signs of restiveness on Nitish Kumar’s part. He has switched sides once and can do so again. However, in either case, “sushasan babu” will epitomize Enoch Powell’s prophesy.

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