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Thursday, Oct 06, 2022

Sushil Modi writes: Nitish Kumar’s delusional ambition, hubris are hurting the people of Bihar

With his overtures to become the Vice-President rebuffed, Nitish wants to give his ambitions of a national political role another shot. He is overestimating his prospects

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar (File)

All eyes are on Bihar and, once again, for the wrong reasons. The leading players of this drama are Nitish Kumar and the usual suspects, for all that has gone wrong in the state for the last 30 years or so, Lalu Prasad and his family.

It is important to step back and analyse the phenomenon called Nitish Kumar — someone I have worked with for many years.

From 1996 onwards, he partnered with the BJP as part of an anti-Congress, anti-Lalu plank. His first full term as chief minister of Bihar (he also served as CM for a week in 2000 but resigned before facing the House) — with the support of the BJP — from November 2005 onwards saw massive changes in the state. For its performance, the JD(U)-BJP alliance was rewarded by the people with a majority of almost 85 per cent in the 2010 elections. However, since May 2013, Nitish is on an alliance-breaking spree – first resigning as CM, then sacking the CM he appointed, to joining hands with bitter rivals and now, the latest fracas earlier this month.

The collateral damage of Nitish’s journey, guided by self-centeredness, has been the state of Bihar. Bihar, battered by the lawlessness and decay during the Lalu-Rabri regime, needed good governance and robust economic growth. On both fronts, the JD(U)-BJP government delivered phenomenally well. Between 2005-2013, Bihar was on the path to catching up with the rest of the country and there was a complete turnaround in the state.

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However, this selfish streak led to the breakdown of the JD(U)-BJP alliance in 2013. The JD(U) ran a minority government; fighting on its own steam, it was decimated in the 2014 general elections. The then JD(U) government’s focus shifted towards survival and the government’s energy was channelled away from the development of Bihar — the momentum of the first term was lost forever. The short interregnum of Jitan Manjhi’s term as CM was a disaster for Bihar.

Bihar’s development continued to suffer on account of instability – seven governments in the last 10 years. The 2015 JD(U)-RJD Mahagathbandhan broke up in 2017 when Nitish was disappointed with the inadequate explanation offered by his deputy – Tejashwi Yadav — for the CBI raids at his house. I wonder what explanation Tejashwi has offered now that he has been charge-sheeted by the CBI and is currently out on bail?

It is Nitish’s habit – thrice in the last 10 years — of rudely betraying the mandate given by the people of Bihar that is shameful.

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Now, once again, it is his personal ambition that has come into play. With his overtures to become the Vice-President rebuffed and seeing no potential political growth for himself within the NDA, Nitish wants to give his ambitions of a national political role another shot as the moribund opposition’s candidate in 2024. This ambition, coupled with false notions about his popularity, has made him delusional.

Nitish’s popularity has dipped dramatically over the years. From the 115 seats that his party won in the assembly elections in 2010 to the 71 seats in 2015 to the current 45 seats, the trend is unmissable. There is a strong anti-incumbency against him. For the JD(U) to attribute Chirag Paswan’s electoral strategy to the BJP is misleading and not something the party should point out almost 19 months later. The JD(U)’s 45 seats in the assembly are in large part due to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity. With his ground-breaking work and assiduous campaign during the elections, the PM saved the day for JD(U).

The JD(U) has accused the BJP of trying to break the party with the help of RCP Singh, a la Eknath Shinde and the Shiv Sena. This is poor reasoning, primarily because Shinde wanted to break out of the shackles of the Thackeray family of his own volition – the BJP lent him a helping hand because the Shiv Sena was not an ally. Further, if the JD(U) split and 2/3rds of the party — 30 MLAs — sided with the BJP’s 77, it would add to only 107 seats in the assembly. That’s well short of the majority mark of 122. Therefore, this argument doesn’t add up.

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Nitish’s so-called vote bank of extremely backward classes has long deserted him. They now vote for PM Modi – the JD(U)’s repeated dismal performances at the hustings are ample proof of this.

The accusation that the BJP co-opted RCP Singh by appointing him a Union minister without the party’s consent is also far from the truth. Singh has been Nitish’s trusted aide for over 24 years and if he had violated the party’s norms, why was his ministerial position accepted for a good 12 months? The new dispensation in Bihar is also a result of JD(U) President Lalan Singh’s jealousy of RCP Singh, the Union Minister. It must be pointed out that Lalan Singh was one of the prime movers of the corruption cases, in five of which Lalu Prasad has been convicted and one case in which the current Deputy CM of Bihar, Tejashwi Yadav, is on bail.

Bihar faces a real danger of collapsing into misrule because the JD(U)-RJD equation is such that the de-facto rulers will be Lalu and his family. The RJD-Congress-Left combine has 114 seats – eight short of the majority — in the assembly. If the RJD obtains Jitan Manjhi’s five votes and a few resignations from amongst JD(U)’s MLAs, Nitish will be left stranded.

To assume the BJP’s performance in 2015, when it fought without JD(U) as a partner, as an indicator of performance in the next general elections is rather naive. Between 2015 and now, the PM’s popularity has soared. The 2014 general elections were about the promise of Modi and now it is about the trust of the multitudes of Indians. The BJP in Bihar now has a much-improved network of workers at every booth.

There is also the example of the Mahagathbhandhan in UP during the general elections in 2019 when the SP, BSP, and RLD, with their distinct vote bases, combined to take on the BJP. PM Modi’s popularity brought 64 of the 80 Lok Sabha seats to the BJP and its allies.

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The Opposition is unable to agree on who their leader will be and adding Nitish Kumar to the mix will not help matters. Mamata Banerjee and KCR are on a stronger footing in their home states and enjoy greater eminence than Nitish. As we head towards the 2024 general elections, it is obvious that India will once again give Narendra Modi its vote and it is the convergence of a self-serving attitude, jealousy, and hubris that will put paid to Nitish’s national ambitions.

The writer is a Member of Parliament and former Deputy Chief Minister and Finance Minister of Bihar

First published on: 14-08-2022 at 12:00:24 pm
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