Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar has lost much of his political stature over the years. The man who was once widely projected as ‘Prime Minister material,’ is now struggling to save his throne and in the process compromising on ideology and losing friends.
The 68-year-old’s political career spanning over three decades has been full of volte-face. No politician in Bihar has taken so many U-turns as Nitish did. This has resulted in lack of trust. People may grudge his rival, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) president Lalu Prasad for his role in the fodder scam, however, they praise him for never compromising with his party ideology.
Prasad’s staunch and unwavering anti-BJP stand has been the party’s bedrock, a stand which it has never shed till date. This is also the reason why the RJD enjoys significant support base. However, this isn’t the case with Nitish. In the past three decades, he has been seen jumping from one camp to another just to ensure he somehow stays in power but this has robbed him off his popularity and destroyed credibility beyond repair.
“Nitish Kumar himself is responsible for this situation. The fact is that he has lost everything — aura, image and credibility — in his bid to continue on the throne. He is not taken seriously anymore. The masses are not with him as of now,” says political expert DM Diwakar.
Throwing away secularism
People of Bihar had expected much from Kumar when he formed the Samata Party in 1994 revolting against Lalu’s alleged family rule and involvement in corrupt practices. But soon after his party put up a disastrous performance in next year’s assembly elections, winning just seven seats in the then 324-memeber united Bihar House, he threw away “secularism” and joined hands with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). He had tied up with the saffron party at a time when it was widely perceived to be untouchable, especially post Babri mosque demolition in 1992.
During 1996 general elections, the Samata Party formed an alliance with the BJP and fought elections in alliance, winning eight seats. That laid the foundation stone of long-standing alliance between the Samata Party which was later known as JD(U) and the BJP. This 17-year-long alliance eventually broke in June 2013 when Nitish walked out of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) shortly after Narendra Modi was projected as the prime minister candidate. Since then, Nitish’s politics has been full of U-turns.
Joins hands with CPI
Nitish fought the 2014 general elections in alliance with the Communist Party of India (CPI) but won just two seats out of Bihar’s 40 Lok Sabha seats. Without wasting any moment, he rushed to seek support of his old rival Prasad on the pretext of defeating “communal” BJP and fought the next 2015 assembly elections in alliance with the RJD. Banking on Lalu’s support, Nitish bounced back to power with historic mandate — winning 178 seats in 243-member Bihar assembly.
Taking on Modi
In the next few months, Nitish spit fire at the BJP, its ideological mentor RSS and Narendra Modi while addressing rallies across the country. He also made several declarations. Some of them worth mentioning are: “Mitti mein mil jayenge lekin BJP se haath nahin milayenge… BJP ke saath unaki party ke gathbandhan ka aadhyay samapt ho gaya hai (I will prefer to be reduced to ashes rather than go with the BJP. The whole chapter of alliance with the BJP has finished now), “We take (the) resolution to make Sangh mukt Bharat, sharab mukt samaj (RSS-free India and liquor-free society),” “Inka rashtrawad hain RSSwad (BJP’s nationalism is nothing but RSS politics),” and “Today the BJP is talking about nationalism whereas the veterans of the BJP and the RSS played no role in the independence movement”.
The standoff came to a head when Kumar sent truckloads of nails and locks of hair to the PMO to test DNA of people from Bihar after Modi’s questioned Kumar’s DNA at a rally during the 2015 Assembly polls.
Walks out of Grand Alliance to tie-up with BJP
The level of rivalry, tone and tempers indicted both the leaders will perhaps never come together but what once looked impossible became possible. After staying together for barely 20 months in power, Nitish did it again — he abruptly broke alliance with the RJD and formed his new government with the support of the BJP against which he had got the mandate. The corruption charges against Tejashwi Yadav levelled by Kumar is yet to be proved even 30 months.
But after Kumar’s return to the BJP camp, he slowly compromised his party ideology. The JD(U), which had been opposing abrogation of Article 370, implementation of Uniform Civil Code and construction of Ram Temple at Ayodhya, did a U-turn and backed the saffron party in all the contentious legislation.
Top leaders leave party
The result is that all prominent JD(U) leaders, such as George Fernandes, party’s founding president, Digvijay Singh, Sharad Yadav, NK Singh, Shivanand Tiwary and Uday Narayn Chaudhary quit the party while its national general secretary Pavan Kumar Varma and national vice-president Prashant Kishor are on the verge of parting ways. Of them, Fernandes and Digvijay Singh are no more. This has made Kumar alone within the party.
“Right now, Nitish Kumar is not even in a position to blackmail the BJP. Nitish of 2020 is entirely different from the Nitish of 2005 when the BJP gave him weight… His ambition has left him nowhere,” says political analyst Soroor Ahmed.