Once seen as an alternative to Modi and the most trusted face of the Opposition, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is reeling under the pressure of his own brand image. The brand Nitish Kumar, synonymous with clean, corruption-free politics has worked in Bihar for over two decades but this time the brand seems to be losing its connect and appeal with the people.
While his tightened stand on the issue of the corruption involving the RJD leader and Deputy Chief Minister of Bihar, Tejashwi Yadav, appears to be a ‘‘master stroke’’ for many in Delhi and elsewhere, a closer analysis of the politics on the ground in Patna suggest that he may end up a loser in the end. His situation is being compared to that of a snake which has a shrew stuck in its mouth and is neither able to swallow nor let go.
“ ‘Zero tolerance’ against corruption, sounds promising when spoken but one has to remember that morality cannot run the government, especially in a state like Bihar where caste relation is considered above all,” a Patna watcher told this correspondent.
Many think that Nitish Kumar is doing what former Prime Minister VP Singh had done in the 80s. He playing the role of a crusader is a well-planned political move. Like VP Singh, by raising the issue of the corruption, he wants to take the centre stage. But people of his state seemed to be either misinformed or unconvinced.
“Nitish Kumar might have very good intentions but we do not understand why he has tightened his stand (against Tejashwi Yadav) up to the level where the alliance is on the brink of a collapse,” asked a disgruntled taxi driver who is also a supporter of Nitish Kumar.
Contrary to popular media fervour over Nitish Kumar’s tightened stand towards corruption, the perception built on the ground is that Nitish Kumar is pursuing anti-Yadav politics on behalf of the BJP.
“And this is the point exactly where Nitish Kumar’s calculations went wrong,” commented a senior JD(U) leader because “the issue has gradually taken the shape of an attack on Yadav pride by a Kurmi on the direction of a party (BJP) of upper caste people.”
If sources are to be believed, Yadav leaders, irrespective of their political affiliations are unhappy over Nitish and JD(U)’s increased salvo against Tejashwi. It is understood that Nitish Kumar “knowingly or unknowingly” became instrumental in the game that was started by the BJP.
The strength of the Yadav factor can be understood by the fact that one in every 4 members is Yadav in the 243-member Bihar Assembly. It means out of 243 MLAs, 61 are Yadavs, of which 42 belong to RJD and 11 to JDU.
“Even leaders like Pappu Yadav who used to call a press conference every day against Lalu have gone in to hibernation. And it is quite understandable. What will Yadav leaders explain to their voters,” asked the editor of a Bihar-based news channel.
A section of the JD(U) leaders fears that Yadav MLAs will defect if Nitish Kumar calls off the alliance. “He will be politically finished if he breaks the alliance with RJD,” said a JD(U) activist on the condition of anonymity.
Apprehension of Yadav MLAs breaking off from JD(U) is so palpable that a JD(U) sympathiser whom this correspondent met on Friday evening was busy with listing the names of possible defectors.
“Yadav MLAs, especially those who come from Kosi belt, such as Narendra, Aniruddha, Virendra, Giridhari along with Beena Bharti, Rajdev, Rishidev will switch sides,” he said.
According to sources, JD(U) has 11 Yadav MLAs and all of them are said to have close bonds with Sharad Yadav. That is why it is anticipated that he (Sharad Yadav) is going to play an important role soon enough.
“Sharad may take his own path if the alliance is called off. Nitish has nowhere to go. BJP will not entertain him. Remember he is the man who challenged Modi. Even if he strikes a deal with the BJP, he will be finished politically,” noted a former political editor of a Hindi newspaper.
Apart from the caste factor, it is said that Nitish has opened many wounds in the recent past. He annoyed both the RJD and the Congress by supporting Ram Nath Kovind in the presidential election. His support to demonetisation, GST and surgical strike did not go down well with the Congress too.
“His credibility in the eyes of the Congress has gone down. No matter how weak and shattered the Congress looks, any viable political formation for the 2019 will not be complete without the Congress. And Nitishji understands it very well,” said an RJD leader.
It is interesting to note that despite having less numbers, JD(U) has been vocal and attacking on the issue. RJD, the bigger party in the alliance, maintained a lower tone. A section of the RJD leadership believes that “Nitish Kumar would remain in the alliance with love” as end of the alliance will mark the end of his political career.