Issue :   
February 2020 Edition of Power Politics is updated.
Issue:Feb' 2020


The wily Nitish to watch !

Rajeev Sharma

Nitish Kumar Bihar is a typical case of political s k u l d u g g e r y , alignments and realignments ahead of state assembly elections. The state polity gets into a tailspin whenever assembly polls draw close. Exactly this is happening in Bihar which is scheduled to have assembly polls by November 2020.
Though the electoral battle is still ten months away, the political fireworks have already started. And the pivot this time seems to be Nitish Kumar, the current chief minister and an ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the ruling party at the Centre.
The BJP’s case is that of once bitten, twice shy. The saffron party has lost power in five states in 15 months – Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Jharkhand. It somehow managed to retain power in Haryana with the help of Dushyant Chautala's newlylaunched Jannayak Janata Party (JJP) after having fought elections against him.

In the first three states, it was a direct contest between BJP and Congress. But the BJP lost the last two states because of a botched up management of allies and political hubris. That’s why, the BJP is chary of its mercurial ally Nitish Kumar, leader of the ruling Janata Dal (United). After the Shiv Sena shock, the BJP doesn’t want another regional satrap ally JD (U) to wreck its chances in a crucial and big state like Bihar. That’s why the BJP is unleashing all kinds of tactics to unnerve and confuse Nitish Kumar.

The central leadership of the BJP seems to be pursuing a shockand-awe strategy to rein in the maverick Nitish Kumar. This is a strategy where the state unit of BJP blows hot but the national BJP leadership blows cold.

One will have a clearer understanding of BJP’s blow-hot-blow-cold strategy towards Nitish Kumar if one considers the following.

Sanjay Paswan On January 13, senior BJP leader and former union minister Sanjay Paswan played the first chess move by heaping praise over Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader and former deputy chief minister Tejashwi Yadav just a few hours after chief minister Nitish Kumar spoke against National Register of Citizens (NRC) in the assembly.

Tejashwi Yadav This is what Sanjay Paswan said at a press conference: “Tejashwi Yadav is an intelligent and energetic leader and has tremendous possibilities. We will welcome him if he is willing to join the NDA... We never said that Bihar should be RJD free. In Bihar, the power of RJD should stay because it is the only opposition in the state, not Congress or any other political party.”
The BJP leader left nothing to imagination and went on to say that politics is a game of possibilities and that the BJP would form a new alliance if its alliance with Nitish Kumar fell through.

The BJP leader left nothing to imagination and went on to say that politics is a game of possibilities and that the BJP would form a new alliance if its alliance with Nitish Kumar fell through.

Narendra Modi and Amit Shah The message was loud and clear and meant only for one person – Nitish Kumar. Obviously, Sanjay Paswan couldn’t have given such a major policy statement without consulting the top leadership: prime minister Narendra Modi and home minister Amit Shah.
But the whole thing was turned on its head on January 16 when Amit Shah said thus in Vaishali, Bihar: "I want to dispel all rumours about our coalition (with Kumar). The elections will be contested under Nitish Kumars leadership...Lalu Prasad (RJD supremo), who is in jail in corruption cases, may go on dreaming that our coalition willcome apart. But he should know that the NDA has led Bihar out of his lantern age (an allusion to RJDs poll symbol) to the LED era."
Yes, of course, the RJD quickly came up with a denial, which is understandable as the RJD wouldn’t like any s p e c u l a t i o n s when the elections are a good nine to 10 months away. The RJD dismissed any chances of an alliance with the BJP when its former state president Ram Chandra Purve said, “[The] RJD was formed on the principles of social justice, secularism and socialism. We prefer ideology to power.”

Prashant Kishor and Pavan Kumar Varma Clearly, the BJP’s Big Two aren’t happy with the way Nitish Kumar has gone all guns blazing against the BJP over issues like NRC, National Population Register (NPR) and Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), even though his party had supported the Citizenship Bill in both Houses of Parliament and the bill was e v e n t u a l l y passed last month. The BJP was already miffed with Kumar for not restraining JD-U leaders such as Prashant Kishor (national vicepresident) and Pavan Kumar Varma (national g e n e r a l secretary) for criticizing NRC, NPR and CAA. Nitish twisted the knife with his following remark in the state assembly on January 13: “If there are any apprehensions about the new questions being asked, I will look into this after January 19.” All this is over and above the JDU's demand for more seats for the party in the next assembly election.

Within a few weeks after the JDU supported the Citizenship bill in both houses of parliament, Nitish Kumar shifted his position by saying in the assembly that he was open to debate over the Citizenship and NPR issues. On the latter, he agreed to the NPR but now “extra details” are being sought.

What riled the BJP the most was Kumar’s attacks on NRC. The chief minister not only rejected the NRC but also said he was ready for debates over CAA and NPR in Bihar assembly. For BJP, Nitish Kumar’s recent conduct is reminiscent of its erstwhile Maharashtra ally, Shiv Sena.

That’s why the BJP too had been throwing barbs at Nitish Kumar over his claim for National Democratic Alliance’s CM face. Just last week, Sanjay Paswan had remarked that the people of Bihar are “tired of Nitish Kumar” and want a new face on chief minister’s seat.

Nitish Kumar seems to be the fulcrum of Bihar politics from here on till the state assembly polls are held in next months. Nobody knows how the wily JD (U) leader would play his politics and to which party he will eventually tilt just before the elections.

Every political combination is possible in Bihar.