While many would see the current rumblings between the BJP and the JD(U) as an indication of snap elections, the realistic political picture is that the BJP won’t be giving Bihar to the Opposition on a platter.
Pragmatic politician Stanley Baldwin, who was thrice the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in between the two World Wars, famously said: “I would rather be an opportunist and float than go to the bottom with my principles around my neck.”
That is a fitting description for contemporary Indian politicians, particularly the likes of the Nitish Kumars and the Mayawatis. Both these regional satraps are known for switching sides, changing allies and swinging from one end to another on the political spectrum just before or after elections.
The Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati has just dumped Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav, just a few months after forging a high-voltage SP-BSP alliance. Now the focus is on Nitish Kumar, the Janata Dal (United) leader and mercurial chief minister of Bihar who reads the political atmospherics better than any career weatherman.
In many ways Bihar’s politics resembles shifting sand dunes. The bellwether cock has started spinning like seldom before in recent months and years. Consider these remarks from leaders of the opposition camp led by the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD):
Rabri Devi: ‘If Nitish Kumar joins the Grand Alliance again, we have no objection to it.’
Raghuvansh Prasad: ‘He (Nitish) will surely switch sides...This has happened several times earlier.’
This hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah combine. The duo is in no mood to let an important state such as Bihar go into the opposition camp so early during Modi second tenure. After all, their plans are to the contrary: to gobble up Congress-led state governments of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan and the Congress-supported coalition government of Karnataka — not give away Bihar to the Opposition where the BJP and allies won 39 out of 40 Lok Sabha seats in just-concluded general elections.
Therefore, around the time the RJD leaders were throwing a bait to the mercurial Bihar CM, Union minister Giriraj Singh made an embarrassing remark targeting Nitish Kumar which put the BJP in a quandary. Singh put a highly-communal and divisive post on the social media, pricking Nitish Kumar for attending an iftaar party. It is believed that within hours of this BJP heavyweight and Union home minister Amit Shah telephoned Singh and rebuked him.
This little episode has much larger political ramifications and meanings. It shows that the BJP is now taking over the political space ceded by the Congress. Like the Congress of yore which took pride in carrying all parts of the much varied Indian social and religious fabric with itself, today’s BJP is doing the same and emulating the traditional Congress ethos.
Yes, Nitish is upset with the BJP after being denied more than one berth in the Modi Cabinet and has paid the BJP back in the same coin by expanding his council of ministers, inducting eight of his partymen and ignoring the BJP. Shah’s rebuke to Giriraj Singh conveys the BJP’s long-term strategy that it will cherish its old friends and allies and won’t let the Opposition get a toe-hold.
While many would see the current rumblings between the BJP and the JD(U) as an indication of snap elections, the realistic political picture is that the BJP won’t be giving Bihar to the Opposition on a platter. The assembly elections in Bihar are due only in November 2020 and the BJP’s effort would be not to rock Nitish’s boat till then as it would amount to giving the Opposition a free gift.
Nitish cannot do anything drastic now given the majority Team Modi has got in the Lok Sabha. Offering just one central berth to the JDU was a Modi largesse. He gave one berth to each ally, irrespective of seats won by them. It must be remembered that despite his fretting and fuming and despite his alliance with the BJP, Nitish has been unable to get a special status for Bihar.
It only shows that hard times are ahead for the regional parties, more so if they happen to be the BJP allies.
There is a personal political graffiti for Nitish Kumar in all this. He has been chief minister of a big state such as Bihar for the third time. Yet he’s unable to stand on his own. He has always required crutches of others, be it the RJD-led Grand Alliance or the BJP to remain CM.
He can learn a thing or two from another regional satrap, Biju Janata Dal leader Naveen Patnaik who last month became Chief Minister of Odisha for the fifth consecutive time despite fighting against Modi when India witnessed a Modi tsunami.Rajeev Sharma is an independent columnist and political analyst. Twitter: @Kishkindha. Views are personal.