Nitish Kumar’s political opportunism

Shashi Shekhar | Apr 15, 2013

Nitish Kumar’s political opportunism

Who said this in May of 2002?

“Every political party has the right to make a decision. But Paswan’s decision had nothing to do with Gujarat. The Gujarat violence has been taking place for the last two months.”

And this in December of 2002?

“Congratulating the BJP, its allies at the Centre on Sunday refuted suggestions of any “polarisation” of votes in Gujarat but said it was a verdict against the Congress.

“The people of Gujarat were aggrieved with the kind of image painted outside the State and hence reacted in this way.”

And this in 2004?

“Briefing mediapersons following Mr Lalu Prasad’s charge that he had not got the Godhra incident probed sufficiently, the former Railway Minister denied it and accused his successor of “acting irresponsibly.” “This is a political statement meant to address a particular community,” he said.”

And again in 2005?

“It is a political stunt but they (the Centre) should know that they cannot take advantage of the Gujarat riots again and again.”

And finally in 2007?

Congratulating Narendra Modi for his victory in the Assembly elections in Gujarat, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on Monday said Railway Minister and RJD supremo Lalu Prasad was happy over Modi’s victory as his importance in the UPA at the Centre would remain intact.

And here we are in 2013 as Bihar Chief Minister and JD-U leader Nitish Kumar waxes eloquently on Raj Dharma, when what he really means is that he wants his party to have the freedom and flexibility to pursue Rajneeti Dharma. One cannot fault Nitish Kumar’s desire to go down the path of political opportunism. After all, his path to power in Bihar was built on such opportunism at the BJP’s expense.

A timeline trace of Nitish Kumar’s remarks between 2002 and 2007 tells a fascinating story of the pursuit of the incremental Muslim vote in Bihar, as Nitish’s JD-U grew at the expense of both the Congress and the RJD drawing in dubious individuals, including the now vocal Shivanand Tiwari, who not too long ago was Lalu Yadav’s mouthpiece.

On the surface it may seem to be a story of opportunism and hypocrisy while deep down it is a story of cold realpolitik and naked ambition going all the way back to 2000, and Nitish’s first attempt at becoming the Chief Minister of Bihar.

There is however little room for gratitude in competitive electoral politics. What is interesting though, is how the interpersonal dynamics between Nitish Kumar and Narendra Modi shaped up over the years.

This Indian Express editorial from 2005 highlights the extent to which the BJP in general and Modi in particular obliged Nitish to enable him to build his story in Bihar after Nitish’s botched attempt at forming a Government in Bihar in 2000 with help from the BJP.

The most fascinating aspect of this story however, is that while Narendra Modi kept away from Bihar, neither campaigning nor saying much about Nitish, it is Nitish who cast the first stone while campaigning in Gujarat during the 2007 Assembly elections on behalf of the JD-U and against the BJP. In fact, through the exhaustive search of Google News archive, it is hard to find a single direct comment by Narendra Modi on Nitish Kumar during that entire period.

While Nitish Kumar may be the toast of Delhi’s Left-leaning media on account of this new-born Modi-allergy (about five years old to be precise), there is an ugly casteist underbelly to his politics that Delhi’s elite seems to have glossed over.

There is no denying that Mr Nitish Kumar’s regime in Bihar has been a fine balancing act between the narrative of development and the realpolitik of caste. In recent times Nitish Kumar’s record has come under intense scrutiny over the latter with the Mahadalit schemes being questioned, and the Ranvir Sena’s violence being highlighted.

There is also no denying that after VP Singh, it is Mr Nitish Kumar who comes across as the next Mandal messiah with his micro-mandalisation of traditional caste and minority vote banks through new acronyms and monikers – EBCs, MBCs, Mahadalits and OBC Muslims.

The Indian Express earlier on Monday, carried an extensive piece based on ground reports from eight districts in Bihar on the casteist fault-lines that have bred discontent towards the Nitish regime. In particular, the Indian Express cites “Nitish’s political signalling in cancelling his Adhikar Yatra to Ara following the killing of Barmeshwar Mukhiya, chief of the disbanded Ranvir Sena, as not having gone down well with the people.”

Whether rooted in principles or realpolitik or sheer opportunism, Nitish Kumar is free to take his JD-U whichever way he wants. But he needs to realise that in the in the world of politics – acceptability is a two-way street. As for the BJP, realpolitik lies in driving the hardest bargain with its allies, whilst keeping its options open to the fullest extent. The BJP would do well to call the allies’ bluff on whose leadership it will fight the elections under, while keeping the door open on how that leadership negotiates pre-poll and post-poll options.

This is not only smart bargaining but also central to its personality as a political force that wants to be seen as a power to reckon with.

Only a foolish and suicidal political party would hand its allies, who are in no way committed to its long term well-being, a veto on the choice of its future leadership.


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ABOUT AUTHOR

Shashi Shekhar

Shashi Shekhar is the CEO of Niti Digital. Views expressed here are his personal opinions and do not in anyway reflect the Editorial Stance of Niti Central.