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  Opinion   Columnists  31 Jan 2024  Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr | Weak-kneed Nitish Kumar shifts in a political tantrum

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr | Weak-kneed Nitish Kumar shifts in a political tantrum

The author is a Delhi-based commentator and analyst
Published : Jan 31, 2024, 12:54 am IST
Updated : Jan 31, 2024, 12:54 am IST

Nitish Kumar's return to BJP exposes his reluctance on secularism and socialism, signaling challenges for smaller parties.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. (PTI)
 Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. (PTI)

Bihar chief minister and JD(U) president Nitish Kumar was disarmingly candid when he explained what had driven him to suddenly leave the Opposition’s INDIA alliances and join forces, once again, with the BJP. He said that the INDIA alliance was not working, that nothing was happening. It is an admission that had it worked -- of course, he was tactful enough not to say what was not working -- he would have stayed on with the Opposition bloc and worked to defeat the Bharatiya Janata Party and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It can be said that he was explaining the issue in a truthful manner, and it is indeed the truth. The INDIA bloc does not seem to be taking off in the eyes of most political watchers, especially in the media, and most of the blame is placed at the door of the Congress Party for not yielding seats, and in the case of Nitish Kumar not projecting him as a prime ministerial candidate, which is what he wanted. He wanted to be accorded a place of honour in the Opposition, and the Congress seemed to imply that he was indeed an important player but he has to share space with other leaders like the DMK’s M.K. Stalin, the Trinamul Congress’ Mamata Banerjee and the AAP’s Arvind Kejriwal.

Nitish Kumar did not like the idea that Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge was made the chairman of the INDIA coalition. In many ways, Nitish Kumar behaved a lot like V.P. Singh, who did not want to claim the Prime Minister’s post but he desired it ardently, and worked out a drama of pushing forward Devi Lal who then gave it over to V.P. Singh. This infuriated Chandra Shekhar, but it was of no use. But the Singh drama took place after the National Front was in a position to form the government, after Rajiv Gandhi refused to do so, being in a minority, even though the Congress had emerged as the single largest party. Singh begged for support from the BJP and the deed was done.

Nitish Kumar had no such opportunity because this issue came up before the election.

The JD(U) chief must have been aware that the INDIA coalition does not have much of a chance to win, but he wanted to be the leader of a fighting force. It is also possible that after the Ram Mandir consecration drama, he must have realised that the BJP could not be stopped from winning the Lok Sabha election. And he quietly returned to the pavilion as it were. Nitish Kumar showed that he does not have the stomach for a straight fight on the issue of secularism or socialism. He is a firm believer in stratagems, and the one against Lalu Prasad Yadav worked.

There has been a general belief that socialists like Nitish Kumar, Sharad Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan were genuine socialists, and they were compelled by the political situation to sup with the devil, as it were. It is indeed puzzling, and sometimes one is inclined to say that perhaps they have not shed their socialism but they have reluctantly joined the saffron brigade. This was something that one was tempted to say about George Fernandes, and George was quite forthright as to why he joined hands with the BJP. Fernandes argued smaller parties like the Janata Party, Lok Dal, Samata Party and Janata Dal were capable of reining in the right-wing BJP, and that the Indian political space can’t be divided into two big players, that India needs the smaller parties to reflect the diverse interests of society. Fernandes could articulate. Nitish was a companion of Fernandes -- and there is a strong feeling among Fernandes’ admirers that Nitish betrayed Fernandes -- and articulate too, but he has not been able to take a stand to explain the Janata Dal(U)’s separate existence. He made it appear that his is a politics of convenience and opportunism, and that he wanted to overthrow Lalu Prasad Yadav from the saddle of the Bihar leadership, and felt no compunction in joining hands with the BJP. Of course, he could rationalize it and say it was the BJP of Atal Behari Vajpayee, the soft face of Hindutva. But the liberal media for a long time, while sighing over the fact that Nitish had signed up with the BJP, believed rather naively in his secular credentials. The media could be right that Nitish is not a hardcore communalist like the BJP leaders, rooted in the RSS’ doctrine, but he wouldn’t fight for his beliefs, he would not stay out of power for his beliefs. There is a basic flaw in Nitish’s politics, and one hesitates to call it a tragic flaw and raise him to the level of a tragic hero, which he is not. There is no hero in Nitish.

It is also doubtful whether Nitish has any ideological commitment as such, and that he never displayed the ardour of a socialist even in his regular parliamentary speeches from the Opposition benches. George Fernandes could stand up for the unions with all his flaws, and he was a in-your-face unionist. Nitish was never a socialist of that kind. He was a smooth talker, clever and it wouldn’t be right to describe his cleverness as being shrewd. Back in the company of the BJP, now a dominant party compared to the JD(U), Nitish would have to plough a lonely furrow as his party dwindles and many JD(U) members will either join the BJP or go over to Lalu Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal. He is now totally at the mercy of a ruthless BJP under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. If he is allowed to remain chief minister it will be due to Mr Modi’s generosity and not because he is treated as a strong political ally. There is no fight left in Nitish. But then he was never much of a fighter. Most important, all those who belonged to the different shades of socialist parties in the Hindi heartland have a visceral hatred of the Congress because of the old Lohia grouse that Nehru stole the socialist thunder in the 1930s and the 1950s. It was only Lalu Yadav who broke away from this traditional enmity towards the Congress because he saw the real danger posed by the Hindutva politics of the BJP. Nitish Kumar might well disagree with Hindutva but he will not speak against it nor act against it. He is indeed a weak-kneed politician.

Tags: bihar cm nitish kumar, bjp-jdu coalition, 2024 lok sabha elections