BJP’s Sushil Modi back as Bihar deputy CM, JD (U) likely to join NDA at the Centre while RJD and Congress cry foul over Kumar’s betrayal
Hours after he stumped former allies – Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Congress – and resigned as the chief minister of Bihar, on Wednesday evening, Nitish Kumar was back as the state’s top executive, on Thursday morning.
In fast-paced political developments since his dramatic resignation that was a result of a ‘call of conscience’ triggered by his principles being under attack from letting a corrupt Tejashwi Yadav stay on as his deputy in the Bihar government, Kumar ditched the ‘Mahagathbandhan’ with the RJD and Congress for a ‘Gathbandhan’ with the BJP.
It is a different matter that Kumar’s principles or his conscience seemed to have erased from memory the fact that he had snapped ties with the BJP in June 2013 – again as a matter of principle – to stop Narendra Modi and the BJP’s dash to power in the 2014 general elections. But then the BJP romped to power anyway and Modi became Prime Minister in May 2014.
The wily politician that Kumar is, he then swore to stop BJP’s Victory March at the hustings. In 2015, with the Mahagathbandhan, despite the RJD gaining more seats than his JD (U), Kumar was back as CM and the protector of ‘Bihari Asmita’ with a renewed vow to counter Modi’s BJP and work for his beloved state.
The 20 months that saw Nitish lead the Mahagathbandhan government in Bihar now seem like a mirage. The old allies and political equations are back – Sushil Modi will be the new deputy chief minister (in his third stint) and by all indications, the JD (U) will get two berths in the Modi cabinet at the Centre.
The contradictions in Nitish’s quest for upholding his principles – as long as the Chief Minister’s chair is firmly under his haunches – aren’t lost on anybody and it is no wonder that his former partners – Lalu and Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi – are crying foul over the “betrayal of trust” by him.
“A story of ‘Rank Opportunism & Treachery with People’s Mandate’ was written in Bihar today by BJP and Shri Nitish Kumar,” said the Congress. Congress’ media incharge Randip Singh Surjewala said in a statement, “Truth is that ‘hunger for power has over powered’ everything else. The mask of ‘big talks and self-professed honesty’ stands exposed with the sole principle being ‘power at any cost, power at all costs’.”
Accusing Nitish Kumar’s friend-foe-friend BJP of overturning people’s mandate, the Congress said, “Firstly, people’s will was brutally rejected by BJP in Goa and a party (BJP) defeated by people of Goa forcibly formed the government. This derogation of democracy was repeated in Manipur when BJP (which was in minority) constituted a government by upsetting majority numbers through rank defections. In Bihar, every political and democratic principle was murdered in broad daylight and a government of BJP-JDU has been formed today, which neither has neither the people’s mandate nor the authority to rule.”
Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, who apparently had been trying very hard – with help from his mother and party president Sonia Gandhi – to help keep the Mahagathbandhan from imploding, expressed his annoyance over Nitish on Thursday, calling the Bihar CM as a ‘politician with no credibility’ and his actions of the past few days as ‘symptomatic of the problems in Indian politics’. Rahul also said that he knew “for the past 2-3 months of what was going to happen’ (read: Nitish breaking away from the Mahagathbandhan and joining hands with the BJP). Assuming that this were true, it would have served Rahul better had he not mentioned this in a media sound byte.
Rahul’s comment is symptomatic of what’s going wrong with the Congress leadership in recent years – they seem to know what’s expected to go wrong for them but fail to do anything to prevent such an eventuality. We have seen this happening with the Congress with alarming frequency – twice in Arunachal (with the party being caught almost unaware while their entire fleet of MLA – including the chief minister – deserted the party to join the BJP), in Uttarakhand and also with over a dozen senior leaders across states – Hemant Biswa Sarma in Assam, SM Krishna in Karnataka, Arvinder Singh Lovely and AK Walia in Delhi, to name just a few.
Perhaps with Rahul would now take lessons from this latest setback but then his past record at handling the sinking Congress ship suggests that there’s little hope of this happening.
Nitish Kumar’s explanation of his principled stand was on other issues. Shortly after he handed over his resignation to Bihar governor Kesari Nath Tripathi, late on Wednesday evening, Kumar had claimed that when he had supported Modi’s demonetization move – much to the chagrin of his alliance partners – he had made it clear that he also wants a similar war against Benami properties. Thus, when Lalu and his son Tejashwi – Kumar’s deputy – were raided by the CBI on July 7 for corruption and unaccounted properties, the chief minister found himself in a dilemma.
But then, it is pertinent to ask Kumar whether his “zero-tolerance to corruption” rule applied only to allegations of corruption committed by members of his former cabinet in the period that the Mahagathbandhan government was in power. Everyone knows about the corruption taint on Lalu – it is because of his conviction in one such case that the RJD chief couldn’t contest polls and had to settle for Tejashwi taking on the deputy CM’s office. Nitish was fully aware about it too, but he went ahead and allied with Lalu anyway in 2015, safe in the knowledge that with Lalu barred from contesting polls, he would be the CM if the alliance wins. Even while Nitish was on his way to submit his resignation, Lalu was en route to Ranchi to appear in a corruption case hearing.
The charges of corruption against Tejashwi – as the RJD leaders have consistently maintained – are still under investigation and Lalu feels that they are “an attempt by Modi to intimidate him”. But for Nitish, perhaps waiting for a logical conclusion of the investigation against Tejashwi – who by the way hasn’t yet been charged of any corrupt activities related to the offices he held as deputy CM – was too much of an imposition on his principles.
Kumar has to now prove his majority on the floor of the Bihar Assembly as per convention but that shouldn’t be difficult with the BJP’s support. He has already handed over a letter of support with signatures of 132 legislators (a simple majority in the Bihar Assembly) to the Governor and is set to survive the floor test. But whether his credibility as a principled politician – one that he has managed to preserve in the public eye despite past contradictions in his politics – will survive the expected backlash from his friends-turned-foes is something that would be interesting to look out for.
Kumar could have been the Prime Ministerial face of the united Opposition – if ever that happened – but then being a humble man, he is perhaps just happy staying on as Bihar CM.
The cracks within his own party are now evident – JD (U) chief Sharad Yadav skipped Kumar’s swearing-in ceremony on Thursday while senior party MP Anwar Ali went public with his displeasure over the alliance with BJP. JD (U) leaders who are unhappy with Nitish’s move are meeting at Sharad Yadav’s residence in New Delhi to chart out their future strategy – whether to fall in line with Nitish or break away and strengthen the anti-BJP front.