Why it is apt to call the Bihar chief minister ‘opportunitish’
A short history of political U-turns made by Nitish Kumar in quest for power since the 1990’s
I have been reading several analyses on what actually happened in Bihar that led to Nitish Kumar joining the BJP again despite an extremely ugly verbal spat between Nitish and the BJP leadership back in 2015, which also included a controversy, sparked after Prime Minister Narendra Modi commented that there was “some problem with Nitish’s DNA.”
However, none of the analysis of Bihar’s current political situation looks into the personality of Nitish Kumar, which in my opinion, is the genesis of what happened in the state.
Many commentators also saw JD(U)‘s political somersault as another opportunity to take potshots at Congress, especially its Vice-President Rahul Gandhi. Only if roles of other political actors, mainly the BJP, could also be probed with similar alacrity ! Instead of questioning BJP’s strategy of sneaking into power in states where the mandates were majorly against it, sections of the Indian media have been rather generous in praising the “political management” of the BJP. There couldn’t be a worse kind of corruption in any democracy.
Ghar Vaapsi: A wrong comparison
Nitish’s immoral political act is being termed as ghar Vaapsi (homecoming), which may not be a correct phrase if one takes a look at his background.
Originally a Lohiaite and follower of Karpuri Thakur, Nitish’s political upbringing has never had anything to do with the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS). He was a Minister of State (MoS) in the VP Singh government that had thrown its weight behind Lalu Prasad Yadav’s decision to abruptly end LK Advani’s controversial Rath Yatra.
Even after floating the Samata Party, with George Fernanades back in 1994, Nitish refused to align with the BJP to take on Lalu Prasad.
Only after the Samata Party won only seven seats to the Bihar Assembly with a strength of 324 did George and Nitish join hands with the BJP, which was then helmed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani. Nitish, however, put down three conditions for the Samata-BJP merger, which involved that the BJP would not raise any of these three issues:
1. Ram Mandir
2. Common Civil Code
3. Article 370
In 2013, when the BJP decided to anoint Narendra Modi, a leader with a controversial past, as its PM candidate, Nitish Kumar deserted the coalition and returned to the secular front. That was the real ghar vapsi. His recent move to tie-up with the BJP is nothing but an “opportunistic career move.”
“Can’t tolerate corruption” is an empty statement
Nitish’s justification that he could not tolerate corruption is a hollow assertion, as he himself could’t claim that the Bihar administration was entirely free of corruption during his previous terms as CM of the state.
While he may claim a high moral ground for streering himself free of corruption until now, he would still surely concede that Bihar sarkar under him has’nt been free of graft. For instance, after deserting the BJP in 2013, the Nitish Kumar government in Bihar could only be saved with support from both the RJD and Congress. The RJD had been soiled by scams back then, but that didn’t stop Nitish from seeking Lalu Prasad’s support instead of seeking a fresh mandate by going to elections again.
Ironically, it was the BJP that was demanding an election then, just like RJD and Congress are doing now. But Nitish’s priority then, as now, seemed to have been to remain in power at any cost.
Real reason behind Nitish’s discomfort
The reality behind Nitish’s political U-turns lies in his political ambitions, and not his anti-corruption stand or he being image conscious.
Nitish was the first among the then new crop of emerging OBC leaders in the post-Mandal era who revolted against Lalu Prasad Yadav in 1994. Even Ram Vilas Paswan, who was viewed as a much taller leader, with a sizeable following among Dalits (nearly as much as Nitish had among the kurmi and koeri) couldn’t muster the courage to do so.
The episode pointed towards Nitish’s political ambitions, the fact that we wasn’t ready to wait to get to the corridors of power. Between Sharad Yadav, Ram Vilas Paswan and Lalu Yadav and himself, Nitish was the only one who couldn’t enter Parliament in 1977. Even in 1990, Nitish hadn’t been happy in being a Minister of State (MoS) for Agriculture in the then National Front government, while his contemporaries occupied more powerful and envious positions.
His divorce from Lalu Prasad in 1994 was attributed to his political ambitions. Back then, Lalu hadn’t yet been declared as corrupt and had still been a loyal backer of the Lohia and Mandal brand of politics. Initially, Nitish pushed his luck by floating a separate outfit, Samata Party, that was viewed as maintaining a distance from all, the Janata Dal, Congress and the BJP. However, he soon made one of his first political U-turns in 1995 when he joined hands the BJP. That was when Lalu had won the Bihar elections in 1995 with a comfortable majority, with support from Sharad Yadav and Ramvilas Paswan.
When the NDA won the 1998 and 1999 Lok Sabha elections, and later on the state elections in Bihar in 2000, even then Nitish’s ambition of becoming the CM of Bihar couldn’t materialise as he failed to prove his majority in what turned out to be a hung assembly.
The Lok Sabha elections in 2004, taking place in the aftermath of the Gujarat riots, saw the NDA losing at least 30 Lok Sabha seats to an alliance put together by Lalu Yadav.
In 2005, after a hung verdict that forced another state election, NDA finally emerged as victorious which catapulted Nitish Kumar to the CM’s chair.
He finally became what he had aspired to well for around a decade. Nitish became Bihar’s CM.
Thanks to increased funds’ inflow from Centre in the following years and success of rural schemes like MGNREGA, NRHM, PMGSY and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, and higher tax share due to the boom in economy, Nitish was able to deliver rather well as Bihar’s CM and cultivate an image of “Sushashan Babu.”
While Nitish flourished, political fortunes of his former ally Lalu declined in the lead up to General Elections in 2009. The RJD managed to secure just four seats in the Lok Sabha elections, when they were in alliance with Congress, prompting the Grand Old Party to contest the Bihar state elections alone in 2010. In those polls, Lalu could just manage a mere 23 seats, whereas Nitish, in alliance with the BJP, got a thumping majority of 201 in the 243-member assembly.
In a sense, the 2010 Bihar elections were a turning point in Nitish’s political career as he started nurturing ambitions of becoming NDA’s PM candidate. In a way, the party infighting and lack of consensus within the BJP to go with LK Advani as their leader presented Nitish with a good opportunity.
However, the rise of Narendra Modi within BJP, his longstanding association with the RSS and the rank-and-file support he enjoyed, all added up to Modi being appointed as NDA’s PM candidate in 2013. Nitish had misjudged the situation, thinking that BJP’s Parliamentary Board, full of Modi-haters as he saw it, wouldn’t approve of his name for contesting for country’s top post.
The anointment of Modi prompted Nitish to look for alternative alliances, where his PM ambitions could be fulfilled.
Parting ways with the BJP in 2013, raising the Gujarat riots, was another calculated move by Nitish to create space for himself on the secular side of Indian politics.
It must be recalled that in 2002, it was Ram Vilas Paswan who had shown courage to raise voice against Modi’s failure to prevent Gujarat riots and had resigned from the NDA Union Cabinet. Nitish, however, continued to serve in the cabinet. Had Nitish, Geroge and Sharad too revolted and lobbied with other NDA partners, the BJP leadership would have been forced to remove Narendra Modi from Gujarat CM's post.
In 2014 in the face of a Modi wave, JD(U) failed to emerge as a political force and was limited to just two Lok Sabha seats just like Lalu's RJD which also got 2 seats but which secured a higher vote share than JD(U), Nitish finally realised that unless he joined hands with Lalu Prasad, there was no future for him as both RLSP and LJP of Kushwaha and Paswan had already joined NDA.
Lalu too sensed that his vote share was declining since 2005, and it was better to have a united Janata Parivaar. Both joined hands and contested 10 assembly seats in the June 2014 byelections in a grand alliance with Congress also joining them. Out of 10. 4 seats each were secured by JD(U) and RJD while the remaining two went to Congress. Those who believe that it was Prashant Kishor who created this alliance, this was long before Kishor joined hands with Nitish. The results were favourable to the alliance and NDA lost 6 out of 10 seats which were at stake. This paved the way for the 2015 Mahagathbandhan and through this Nitish again started thinking about nurturing his PM ambitions.
(The concluding part of this column will be published tomorrow)
- Lalu Prasad Yadav
- Prime Minister Narendra Modi
- Janata Dal United
- 2002 Gujarat riots
- Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi
- Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar
- Bihar politics