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Mainstream, VOL 62 No 5 February 3, 2024

Nitish Kumar’s Political hoppings and the INDIA bloc | P S Jayaramu

Saturday 3 February 2024, by P S Jayaramu


Nitish Kumar’s political hoppings and his resumption of the Chief Minister’s position for the 9th time with the support of the BJP is the hottest news in Indian politics after the consecration of the Ram Lalla temple in Ayodhya. Writings have emerged in the last few days about Nitish Kumar’s actions, some calling it abrupt, with some others saying it was in the offing for quite sometime, tracing it to the handshake he had with PM Modi at the G-20 summit meeting in New Delhi, where the ice seems to have been broken leading to secret deliberations between the BJP’s top leadership and Nitish Kumar. The decision of the Narendra Modi Government to confer Bharat Ratna posthumously on Bihar’s veteran socialist leader and former CM Karpoori Thakur which elicited quick and wholesome praise of Modi by Nitish Kumar, led to the formal announcement by the JD (U) leader to dump the Mahagatbhandan.

Nitish Kumar’s actions need scrutiny, though it is well known that he is famous for breaking alliances in order to take care of his obsession for remaining in power. Before getting down to such a task, it may be useful to take a brief look at his political journey. Nitish Kumar started his political innings as a socialist having taken part in the JP movement between 1974 and 1977. He subsequently joined the Janata Party and was elected to the Bihar Legislative Assembly in 1985. He worked with Lalu Prasad Yadav in the initial years. To cut the story short, he was the Union Railway Minister in the Vajoayee-led NDA government. Subsequently, he returned to state politics and was elected as Chief Minister of Bihar for the first time in March 2000. He remained the CM of Bihar for eight terms hopping from one alliance to another alliance. His eighth term saw him hopping from the NDA to form government in alliance with the Mahaghatbandhan led by the RJD and Congress Party. While breaking his alliance with the BJP, Nitish vowed never to get back to it. The BJP strongman Amit Shah said that the doors are closed permanently for Nitish Kumar.

Remaining as the Mahaghatbandhan CM of Bihar, Nitish Kumar played a key role in the efforts to create the INDIA bloc to take on the BJP in the upcoming Lok Sabah. He even released the caste census report, dared the Modi Government to carry out a national caste survey. While doing all this, he nursed ambitions of becoming the Prime Minister if the INDIA bloc emerges successful in defeating the Modi Government at the hustings in the upcoming Lom Sabha polls. When the leaders of the block supported Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge as their choice for the post of the Group’s Convener, Nitish Kumar must have made up his mind to exit from the INDIA bloc. The consecration of the Ram temple in Ayodhya, with Narendra Modi as the ‘Yajaman’ and the widespread media campaign that the Lok Sabha election results are a ‘done deal’ perhaps made Nitish Kumar to bury his prime ministerial ambitions. That must have been the real reason, not his allegation that things were not going well in the INDIA bloc, which led to his decision to ditch the Mahaghatbandhan and go back to the BJP fold again to retain the Chief Minister’s gaddi for the 9th time. Committed to it’s overriding objective of coming back to power at the national level and to strengthen it’s hold in the Hindi heartland, the BJP took back Nitish to it’s fold again. This is the only pragmatic way in which one can explain the realpolitik considerations of Nitish Kumar’s decision to break with the INDIA bloc. Compared to Nitish Kumar’s flip flops in recent years, the action of Haryana legislator Gayan Lal in 1967, who changed parties thrice in 15 days, leading to the coining of the phrase Aya RAMs and Gaga Rams, pales into insignificance.

Impact on the INDIA bloc :

Many commentators have written that the exit of Nitish Kumar from the INDIA bloc has dealt a body blow to the alliance. In my opinion such conclusions are impulsive. In any case, the issue needs to be pragmatically analysed. First of all, despite Nitish Kumar’s stature as a long-standing leader on the Indian Political horizon, realistically speaking, his influence in electoral terms, is confned to Bihar only. For that matter, even in Bihar, Nitish is not a hegemon politically. Lalu Yadav, an influential leader despite his involvement in corruption scandals, holds significant influence iverover the Bihar voters, given the fact that yadavs constitute 14.26 percent of Bihar’s population. Surely Lalu and his son Tejaswini Yadav will describe Nitish Kumar’s actions as betrayal during their campaign speeches. Secondly and more importantly, while Mamta Banernee will fight the Lok Sabha polls on her own by not agreeing to any seat sharing, TMC’s victories would very be the INDIA groups victory. Similar will be the situation in Punjab where the AAP is part of the alliance. Thirdly, Nitish kuma has no influence electorally in Maharastra, the North-East and the Southern States. Hence, the argument that Nitish Kumar’s exit from the Mahaghatbandhan is going to drastically affect the group’s electoral fortunes in the Lok Sabha polls is an overstatement bereft of any logic. However, it is crucial that the INDIA bloc quickly agrees to seat sharing wherever possible keeping in mind the strengths of regional parties to face the BJP juggernaut. Equally importantly, the alliance must come up at the earliest with a common minimum programme, anchored in Constitutional Values and people-friendly welfare programmes to attract the electorate to its side. The task is formidable but by no means impossible if there is political will.

(Author: P. S. Jayaramur is former Professor of Political Science, Bangalore University)

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