Why Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) would rather not vote against Ram Nath Kovind

The JD(U) cannot afford to vote against Kovind, a non-Jatav Dalit. JD(U) leaders believe that a number of Dalit communities in Bihar — most of them now bracketed as Mahadalits — identify with Kovind’s community.

Written by Anand Mishra | New Delhi | Updated: June 22, 2017 8:27 pm
Nitish Kumar, Presidential polls, Ram Nath Kovind, Bihar Governor Nitish with Kovind in 2015 after the latter took over as Bihar governor. (Photo: Prashant Ravi)

Such is the JD(U)’s base, a senior party functionary said, that “every drop counts for us in filling the bucket”. “Hamari party ka base hi aisa ki bund bund se ghada bharta hai,” the leader said, shorty after the JD(U) announced that it would support the NDA’s presidential candidate Ram Nath Kovind, as of now still the Bihar governor.

The JD(U) cannot afford to vote against Kovind, a non-Jatav Dalit. JD(U) leaders believe that a number of Dalit communities in Bihar — most of them now bracketed as Mahadalits — identify with Kovind’s community. The party had already gambled with the risk of alienating Mahadalits two years ago when it forced the resignation of then Bihar CM Jitan Ram Manjhi in February 2015.

It was Nitish himself who, following his resignation in the wake of the rout of the JD(U) in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, had handpicked Manjhi to replace him as chief minister. Manjhi, who belongs to the Mushhar community, fell out with Nitish with a series of decisions that upset the JD(U) leadership, while making it clear that he was in mood to hand the reins back to Nitish ahead of the October 2015 assembly polls.

Once Manjhi formed the Hindustan Awam Morcha and joined the NDA, the BJP used his forced resignation to paint Nitish as anti-Dalit and asked Mahadalits to avenge the “humiliation” of Manjhi. Throughout the run-up to the polls, Manjhi too attacked Nitish for “insulting” a Mahadalit.

As it turned out, it did not work against Nitish, with the JD(U) sweeping the polls in alliance with the RJD and the Congress, though Manjhi himself did wrest the seat of outgoing Bihar Speaker Uday Narayan Choudhary. Now the nomination of Kovind, who belongs to the Koli community and hails from Uttar Pradesh, means the JD(U) cannot be seen as voting against a Dalit candidate.

“We simply could not have afforded it. Our base is like that, and Nitish has worked a lot on the Mahadalit base,” said a JD(U) leader. “Like Paswans in Bihar, Jatavs are the dominant caste in UP. The Mahadalits in Bihar identify with non-Jatav Dalits of UP. After the Manjhi episode, we could not have afforded anything else. We would have been in the line of fire for putting obstacles in a Dalit’s path to the country’s top constitutional post.”

There could be an additional game-plan, feel the JD(U)’s opponents. They point out how the BJP-led central government made Nitish a member of a national committee last September for the commemoration of Jana Sangh ideologue Deendayal Upadhyaya’s birth centenary. Nitish was the only Opposition chief minister in the committee.

The very next month, the JD(U)’s rivals note, Nitish hailed the strikes across the LoC carried out by the NDA government. This was unlike the stand of most Opposition parties, whose responses were either muted or questioned the government’s claims, and even the stand of JD(U) veteran Sharad Yadav.

Even on demonetisation, Nitish broke ranks with the Opposition and supported the government’s move and distanced his party from the November 28 Akrosh Diwas of Opposition parties, while Sharad Yadav was in the forefront of organising the event.

Now, the support for Kovind comes after Nitish himself had initiated moves for a common Opposition candidate. He had discussed it with some Opposition leaders and met Congress president Sonia Gandhi on April 20.

Even before Kovind’s name was announced, in fact, Nitish was already being seen as distancing himself from other Opposition parties as far as the presidential election was concerned. On May 26, Nitish skipped an Opposition luncheon meeting chaired by Sonia in Delhi to discuss the presidential election. The very next day, he arrived in Delhi to attend another lunch — hosted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in honour of visiting Mauritian Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth.

Later, JD(U) leaders denied suggestions that Nitish was getting closer to the BJP. “Such speculation is by those who do not understand Nitish’s style of functioning. He has been in the forefront of Opposition unity and will remain so,” said JD(U) general secretary K C Tyagi.

RJD spokesperson Manoj Jha, too, played down any suggestion of Nitish getting closer to the BJP. “Our alliance in Bihar is not affected by this. It will continue,” said Jha. “Why was there no such speculation when the Shiv Sena broke ranks with the NDA and supported Pranab Mukherjee’s candidature for the President in 2012? Or when Nitish, then a BJP ally, supported Mukherjee?”

It was exactly a year after supporting Mukherjee that Nitish, in 2013, snapped his alliance of 17 years with the BJP.

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  1. S
    s s nair
    Jun 22, 2017 at 5:04 pm
    The reason 1. Nitish is Chief Minister. (2)A CM has to depend on the PM and his policies (3)He is frightened that if he oppose Modi he will face back lash like Mamta (4)He fully knows a President can do nothing as long as Modi is in command. (5)By backing the opposition candidate he will gain nothing. Something is better than nothing. So it is better to back NDA candidate.
    Reply
    1. A
      AP
      Jun 22, 2017 at 3:52 pm
      IS IT NOT VERY AGONIZING - BY POPULARIZING THE CASTE OF THE WOULD BE PRESIDENT INSTEAD THE MERIT OF HIS QUALIFICATION WE ARE DEGRADING THE HONOUR OF THE PRESTIGIOUS PRESIDENT OFFICE ??
      Reply
      1. R
        Ramash Singh
        Jun 22, 2017 at 3:20 pm
        It is unfortunate and death nail to Indian democracy.
        Reply
        1. D
          Damodar Biswal
          Jun 22, 2017 at 3:17 pm
          After CBI case against Lalu for benami properties ,Nitish wants to maintain distance from him.Good decision.Will pay rich dividends during 2019 elections.
          Reply
          1. d
            dv1936
            Jun 22, 2017 at 3:05 pm
            An unprincipled caste based sh:t country India has become, thanks to its rotten cons ution
            Reply
            1. P
              Parth Garg
              Jun 22, 2017 at 2:35 pm
              All in all what is important is that Kovind belongs to Dalit or Maha Dalit community which is the largest vote bank for every other political party. Merit is secondary.
              Reply
              1. R
                Rajesh
                Jun 22, 2017 at 10:59 am
                So Nitish will Vote for RSS to avoid backlash of Kovind' s Mahadalits. Caste based politics ahead of development based politics. PM is hiding his 3 years of failure under Yoga Day spending tens of thousands of crores at a time when millions are starving under his rule and farmers suicide has reached mind boggling proportions. PM has spent so much on travels around the world in just 3 years that 10 PM combined have not done in decades.
                Reply
                1. S
                  Simply Backchod
                  Jun 22, 2017 at 11:31 am
                  Yes Pappu NRI goes to meet his g mother and family every now and then. Modi's mother lives utter simple life in Vadnagar, Gujarat. We will come to know before 2019 whether Modi is suitable for a second term.
                  Reply
                  1. S
                    shiravanthe sridhar
                    Jun 22, 2017 at 11:53 am
                    You are fit to be editor in chief of national herald or CPM moth mouthpiece, join at the earliest as there is no vacancy atvislamic express
                    Reply
                    1. D
                      Damodar Biswal
                      Jun 22, 2017 at 3:18 pm
                      Can u show me a single corruption case against Modi or his ministers,sir?
                      Reply
                    2. K
                      Kapil
                      Jun 22, 2017 at 10:20 am
                      Nitish Kumar is known back stabber. Those who saved his political future which was almost destroyed by BJP using Jetan Manjhi are now being back stabbed by Nitish. Nitish is emerging as BJP lekay and mole. Opposition must be very careful from Nitish and Naveen of Orissa.
                      Reply
                      1. S
                        shiravanthe sridhar
                        Jun 22, 2017 at 11:55 am
                        One more porki from piggy Stan lamenting at nitish kumar's decision.
                        Reply
                        1. D
                          Damodar Biswal
                          Jun 22, 2017 at 3:20 pm
                          So,u support Lalu because of his benami properties!!
                          Reply
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