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Mainstream, VOL LX No 33, 34 New Delhi, August 6, August 13, 2022 [Independence Day Special]

Collapse of the BJP coalition Govt in Bihar and its replacement by a Mahagathbandhan alliance Govt will energise secular forces in the country | Arun Srivastava

Saturday 13 August 2022

by Arun Srivastava

Nitish Kumar has been ridiculed and described as an unreliable partner for his turning sides during his nearly two-decade stay in the office of the chief minister, but he at the same time deserves appreciation for shaking the level of confidence of Narendra Modi and snatching the Chanakya crown from Amit Shah by foiling their design to dislodge from the power and committing to unite the fractious opposition to take on the creator of New India.

During the last year, the opposition leaders made some moves to come to a common platform. But somehow it could acquire a concrete shape. The major loser of this has been Mamata Banerjee. No doubt it would be naïve to expect that Nitish has a magic band and he would succeed in accomplishing this incredible task. So far no opposition leader, not even Sonia Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi had taken pains to bring them together. Mamata’s allergy toward Rahul has been primarily responsible for stymieing chances of anti-BJP forces flocking together.

The BJP leaders have leveled various kinds of allegations against Nitish for his move to break away and one of these has been the accusation of Nitish nursing his greed for becoming the prime minister. The BJP leaders claim to have groomed him as the chief minister. May be right in their perceptions. But the fact remains that Nitish, the person who made Modi and Shah bite the dust by foiling their plan to unseat him, is not a fool. Otherwise, too he is not committing by nursing the desire to become the prime minister. After all, he is a politician and not a saint.

The BJP leaders also allege that he has been a failed administration. Obviously, this raises the question, since they had come to realise that Nitish has failed to deliver good governance, then naturally they should have dumped him and brought in their own person in his place. In fact, they knew that delivering good governance that too in a state like Bihar has been a tough task.

Nitish on Wednesday [August 10, 2022] took oath as Bihar chief minister for the eighth time and sounded the trumpet for Opposition unity in the 2024 general election to take on the BJP. “I will now work to strengthen Opposition politics in the country. Some people think the Opposition will come to an end. There is a need for everybody to unite for 2024. We should make up our mind and come together,” said Nitish.

After swearing in Nitish dismissed questions about his prime ministerial ambitions, saying he was “not a contender”. At the same time, he candidly said that Narendra Modi would be unable to retain the Prime Minister’s post after the next general election. He said, “He who came in 2014, will not be able to stay on beyond 2024. Whether I’m there or not, he will not be there in 2024”.

When Nitish Kumar first came to power in 2005, he had done a commendable job of setting up a land reforms commission and education commission. He initiated a number of development works. It continued for the next three years. But midway he lost track. The reasons for his digression ought to be copiously examined. Unfortunately, he could not implement the recommendations of the panels.

There is no denying that the insult and humiliation that has been inflicted on him by Narendra Modi and Amit Shah had made him so bitter that he was not willing to relent and become satisfied by severing relation with them. In fact, Nitish who has accepted the challenge from duopoly in his enigmatic remark made it candidly apparent that he is out on the mission to unite the opposition and remove Modi and his party from power.

In the fierce battle for buttressing political supremacy between the two Chanakyas, Amit Shah was made to bite the dust by Nitish Kumar by aborting his mission Operation Lotus, an endeavour to remove Nitish from power and also restructure his task to finish yet another regional party, this time JD(U) of Nitish, and create a new Eknath Sinde in Bihar.

Notwithstanding the felonious demeanour of Shah, it was particularly the arrogance of Narendra Modi and his contempt for others that conjured Nitish Kumar to quit the NDA coinciding with the day country was celebrating Quit India day. Nitish might not have resorted to this extreme move if Modi and Shah had not conspired to insult him, pull down his government and present him in poor light through their party colleagues and leaders.

Before handing his resignation to Governor Fagu Mahato, he had narrated the insult and humiliation that was inflicted on him by Modi and Shah. Nitish told his party legislators and MPs, at a meeting he convened at his official residence, that he had been driven against the wall by the BJP which tried to weaken his JD(U), first by propping up Chirag Paswan’s rebellion and later through the party’s former national president RCP Singh. It is an open secret that relation between both Modi and Nitish has been worsening for quite some time in the wake of disagreements over a number of issues including caste census, population control, and the Agnipath defence recruitment scheme. Of late the BJP legislators had it a habit to question the decisions and moves of Nitish Kumar and even accuse him of all kinds of wrongs. The worst has been the case of the Assembly Speaker, who was not having a nice working relationship with Nitish. In fact, Nitish had asked Modi and Shah to replace him with some leader.

Though Modi and Shah in their public postures appeared to be quite friendly to Nitish, the fact was they always instigated their leaders to demean him. It is not that Monday’s development was unexpected. In fact, for the last six months, they were engaged in a war of wits. It was the July 31 statement of party president J P Nadda that compelled him to take his own path. Nadda had claimed that only the BJP would survive and all other parties- including regional parties - would perish in the country. As JD-U is a regional party, this message was taken as a warning.

Those who know Nadda and are aware of his style of functioning assert that he was delivering the dialogue which was tutored to him by Shah. However, some people nurse the feeling that Nadda was responsible for the exacerbation of the crisis. But it is not the case. Nitish would react in this manner was beyond their imagination. Once Shah realised that the situation was slipping out of his grip, in the night of Sunday he rang up to assuage his hurt feeling. But it was too late. Nitish was ready to move ahead.

Nitish’s decision must not be seen merely as a setback for the saffron party in Bihar. It was wider implications across the country. The tweets and responses from the opposition parties make it abundantly clear that this incident has enthused the opposition to take on the saffron brigade head-on. In fact the BJP leaders are not simply surprised at Nitish’s move, they are scared of future political developments in the country. Political change in Bihar would invariably energise those opposition leaders who had lost hope and presumed that the electoral dynamics for the big battle in 2024 is beyond their reach with the perceived absence of a visible alternative to the domineering Modi.

Nitish reviving and restructuring the Mahagathbandhan, a forum of the RJD, Left, and some democratic organisations, and becoming the chief minister would repudiate BJP’s move to identify itself with the aspirations of the Dalits and OBCs. The peoples’ response and their approval of Nitish parting of ways with the BJP clearly underlined that the dalit and OBC support base has started consolidating in favour of Mahagathbandhan. BJP had conspired to damage the JD-U by using Lok Janshakti Party leader Chirag Paswan, who fielded candidates against all JD(U) contestants in the state elections in 2020. This reduced Kumar’s party tally to 43 and weakened his position in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

Installing of the Mahagathbandhan government on August 10, 2022 headed by Nitish with Tejashvi as the Dy CM, would also witness the resurrection of the politics of social justice. True enough Modi and Shah are scared of the spectre of losing out this newfound support base, which had rallied behind the BJP during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Haunted by this fear the BJP had launched a personal attack on Nitish and brought in use the phrase of “Paltu” leader. They charge him with going against the people’s mandate. But at the same time, they forget the deeds of their leaders Modi and Shah, who have been primarily responsible for triggering the present crisis.

Political experts hold the view that Nitish Kumar’s decision to return to the secular fold is a big boost as the JDU, RJD, Congress, CPI-ML, SP and other opposition parties constitute a major chunk of vote bank. This element has in fact convinced Congress chief Sonia Gandhi to throw her weight behind him when Nitish rang up her and sought support.

Nevertheless, this development would simply jeopardise Mamata Banerjee’s plan to chart out a maneuvering space in national politics. It was with the specific mission to bring all the opposition parties together on a common forum and strengthen the secular forces that Congress promised to extend its support to any non-BJP government in Bihar. The Congress, which has 19 legislators in the Bihar Assembly, will help strengthen the coalition.

The exercise to weed out, the former union minister RC Prasad Singh from the party was not merely a punitive action against him instead it had wider implications. It was a strong message for Narendra Modi and Amit Shah to keep away from Bihar . Nitish had come to know that Modi and Shah have hatched out the plot to finish his political career. They were simply waiting for the right time. Shah was following his Maharashtra script. But even before it could acquire a concrete shape, Nitish, the astute politician, torpedoed it.

Bihar sends 40 MPs to the Lok Sabha and played a key role, along with Uttar Pradesh, in making Modi the Prime Minister in 2014 and 2019. With BJP already losing ground in UP, as manifested in the Assembly elections, it may have to bow out of the boxing ring in Bihar.

Meanwhile, the CPI(ML) which has around 13 MLAs in Bihar has decided not to join the new ministry. According to Dipankar Bhattacharya, the general secretary, it would play the role of the opposition inside the government. Dipankar holds that “our entire effort would be to ensure the benefits of the government reach to the people at the ground level. We have to ensure that the credibility of the new government does not suffer and its image is not sullied”.

Bhattacharya said that his party would strive for drawing up a common minimum programme that would incorporate the concerns of people on the ground. He said “Mobilising masses and building people’s movements have always been our focus areas. Joining the cabinet is not a priority for us. We are very much part of the alliance of six-seven parties that takes over today under the leadership of Nitish Kumar, but at the moment we are not joining the cabinet. There is no ideological obstacle as such. In the future, we might review this”.

He said CPI-ML(L)’s best contribution to the cause of Bihar and to the cause of democracy will be to continue to steer civil society movements. Becoming a part of the cabinet will mean shifting our priority,” he added. The party hopes that the new Bihar government will be sensitive to the demands of the civil society and the democratic mass movements.

His one-liner puzzling remark has set the political development in motion. The observation in fact has been taken seriously by Modi and Shah and the think tank of the party has been activated to work out the counter mechanism. True speaking while his remark has brought about a major shift overnight in the political culture and dynamics of the country, his divorcing the alliance in Bihar has put the Modi government in a vulnerable situation about the functioning of the Rajya Sabha.

In all likelihood, if the sources are to be relied upon, the JD(U) leadership will ask Haribans Narayan Singh, the vice chairman of the Rajya Sabha, who represents JD(U) in Rajya Sabha, to part company with the NDA. With JD(U) severing its alliance with the BJP and Nitish throwing an open challenge to Narendra Modi, there is no moral relevance in Singh continuing to be the Vice Chairman.

So far the party leadership has not issued any directive to Singh, the sources maintain Nitish would take a final call after August 24, the day he proves his majority on the floor of the house. On his part, Singh has not indicated whether he will side with Modi and continue to be the Rajya Sabha deputy chairman or abide by the directive of the leadership in the wake of the latest development.

The mood inside the party is quite umbraged. The insult and humiliation that has been inflicted on Nitish by the BJP leadership, from top-level to lower rank, after his break with the BJP, has severely infuriated the JD(U) leaders. The orchestrated move of the BJP leadership to project Nitish as a worthless and greedy leader has turned him so bitter that he is not in the mood to relent and is contemplating launching a massive retaliatory exercise against Modi. He has turned unsparing. He dropped the indication by asserting that his mission is to unite the opposition and remove Modi and his party from power. Nitish accepting the BJP challenge also made it clear the opposition which has the support of 80 per cent of the electorate would not accept the humiliation of lying low.

Obviously, with Nitish hardening his stand and determined to launch his remove Modi crusade from 2023, the party insiders maintain that he would not allow Haribans to go along with Modi. The sources also confide that Nitish was not happy with some of Haribans’s decisions which he took while presiding over the proceedings of the Rajya Sabha. Though they did not elaborate, the decision on the farmers’ bill and the manner in which it was adopted in the house was not liked by Nitish.

The sources maintain that in the past on many occasions Modi used the JD(U) and Haribans to bail out the government, but now in the prevailing situation Nitish does not intend to allow his member to be sacrificed for protecting Modi’s interest and manoeuvrings This move of the JD(U) will marginally affect the NDA’s strength in the Rajya Sabha. BJP, precisely the NDA, does not enjoy a majority in Rajya Sabha. It is still far less of the halfway mark in the 237-member Rajya Sabha. With 91 members, the BJP is the single largest party in the Upper House and often depends on NDA allies and two friendly parties —Biju Janata Dal and YSR Congress Party for passage of key bills.

Nitish and other senior JD(U) leaders are quite angry with the remarks of BJP leader and former Bihar deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi that the fallout between his party and Nitish Kumar could be linked to the Bihar chief minister’s desire to become the country’s vice president. They describe it as a part of the BJP’s insinuation campaign against Nitish. The insiders say that as Kumar parted ways with the BJP alleging that it was trying to break the JD(U), it cannot be expected that he would allow Harivans to continue to have his relations with, Modi.

The JD(U) currently has five members in the Rajya Sabha and 16 in the Lok Sabha. The BJP will lose the support of these members. The number of the NDA members would decline further with JD(U) withdrawing from the NDA, Now in the existing situation, these MPs of JD(U) will add to the strength of Congress. The new political equation emerging out of the latest crisis will also prove to be a major stumbling block in the path of the BJP. In the past, the NDA had managed to shore up numbers for the bills like triple talaq, which the JD(U) was opposed to. but in the future, the task will prove to be arduous for BJP. The Congress-led Opposition bloc in the Rajya Sabha, which has been struggling to put up a joint front in the House, will now be geared to throw challenges to Modi government with JD(U) on its side.

Nevertheless, the BJP which has been hurling tirades and launching an insinuation game against Nitish so far has not taken the Haribans issue in proper stride. The party leaders nurse the view that since he was elected dy chairman with the support of the BJP, he is under a moral obligation to follow the political line of Modi and severe his relations with Nitish. In contrast, the JD(U) leaders hold that he was not elected merely by the BJP members, In fact several other political parties, BJD and ShivSEna, which are not allies of the BJP had voted for him.

A BJP leader however asserted that in case Nitish asks Haribans to resign, then in that backdrop, the BJP will install any of his members in his place. But the task does not appear to be smooth. The situation has undergone a complete transformation. Most of the old allies have deserted NDA. The BJP cannot claim to have smooth sailing. On the other hand, the number of anti-BJP MPs would further consolidate.

In fact, electing a new vice chairman to replace Haribans would be a real challenge before the BJP duopoly. This would be the first trial of strength between the BJP and the opposition. This time ouster of the NDA from power in Bihar will invariably have major impact on the opposition rank and file. Indications have already started pouring in. Already the NCP chief Sharad Pawar has complemented Nitish for his move. "No matter how much BJP leaders criticise Nitish Kumar, he has taken a wise step. He took the decision anticipating the crisis the BJP was planning to bring on. I think he took a wise decision for his state and party," Pawar said. He accused the BJP of finishing off its regional allies gradually.

Communist Party of India (CPI) general secretary D Raja said in a tweet, "Nitish Kumar breaking alliance with BJP is a strong indictment of the politics of intimidation practiced by BJP. Its authoritarianism leaves no scope for cooperation. After Akalis & Shiv Sena, JD(U) is the latest example. Cracks are visible in the relationship of BJP & AIADMK too".

The developments in Bihar have buoyed the opposition parties which had failed to put up a strong fight in the recent elections to the posts of President and Vice President. "Bihar conveys the message of far-reaching change in Indian politics. It’s final outcome depends upon the level of insight expected from the important players. The Left will definitely play the responsible role in its consistent fight against RSS-BJP (sic)," said Viswam in a tweet.

CPI (M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury said that BJP has now got a "taste of their own medicine." "The BJP has said that it wanted an Opposition-free India. Now, look at how some parties are reacting to them, particularly their allies. They are getting a taste of their own medicine after what they did in Maharashtra," Yechury told PTI, referring to the fall of Uddhav Thackeray’s government after the BJP-backed Shiv Sena rebels.

Modi and Shah have been grooming the former union minister and a JD(U) MP RCP Singh, as the second Eknath Shinde was clearly evident in giving him a royal reception when he landed in Hyderabad on the occasion of the National Executive meeting of the BJP. RCP was warmly welcomed by BJP supporters at the airport. Though he clarified that he was on way to Tirupati rumours started doing the rounds that he was joining the saffron camp. His denial was however taken with a pinch of salt as the timing of his visit to Telangana’s capital was intriguing.

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