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Nitish Kumar wants to be Bihar Purush

By Apoorvanand
June 24, 2010 11:14 IST
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The BJP was taken by surprise when Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar snubbed his Gujarat counterpart Narendra Modi. By taking on the BJP is Nitish Kumar rewriting the rules of identity politics, more sophisticated than his predecessor Lalu Yadav, asks Apoorvanand.

The last fortnight has been especially good for Nitish Kumar. Having 'dared' to challenge and humiliate a strongman like Narendra Modi, he showed that he had principles and guts.

On an advertisement depicting Gujarat's solidarity with Bihar in its difficult moment during the Kosi floods -- not an artistic imagination but a photographic report of Nitish and Modi holding hands triumphantly -- he raised an uproar lambasting Modi for his incivility.

He said it is not our culture to boast about the help we give to someone in distress. To express his disgust he cancelled a dinner that was to be hosted by him for the BJP leaders present in Patna for a party convention. He then declared that he was returning the Rs 5 crore (Rs 50 million) aid given by the Gujarat government.

The BJP, taken aback by this sudden 'attack,' took time to recover. We hear different voices from different quarters of the BJP. Some trying to play down the flare-up, some taking a combative pose, some complaining with injured pride.

Speculations are being made regarding the next move by the master politician Nitish. Has the Maya moment for the BJP arrived in Bihar too? The party had hardly any time to absorb the Jharkhand shock where it was made to look like a fool by the wily moves of its partner.

It was clear, even to its diehard principled supporters, that the BJP is prepared to suffer all kinds of humiliation if that ensures even an additional day in power. Now it is trying to make up for its loss of face in Bihar. Sushil Kumar Modi refused to accompany Nitish on the pre-election yatra he is undertaking now. But reports claim he may have a change of heart.

Even a casual observer of Bihar politics understands that the latest public gesture by Nitish is a deft move to keep Muslim votes in his fold. Everybody knows that there is no principle involved in this posturing, but there is no complaint.

For example, nobody asked if returning the money was a cabinet decision or is it simply the chief minister's prerogative to decide on such matters? It was not a personal donation from Narendra Modi for the flood victims of Bihar. Did Nitish have the right to do it?

The principle of cabinet functioning has been thrown to the winds in Bihar. We have heard weak complaints by Janata Dal-United workers many a times that the party has ceased to function as party. Now it looks like an extension of Nitish Kumar.

And was he also not uncivil when he cancelled a dinner after inviting the BJP leaders? Do we turn away guests after inviting them to our home? Yet nobody questioned him. Nobody asked Nitish why he was angry with the advertisement? Does not the public relation department work only as Nitish Kumar's PR department? Is it not a fact that the source of all advertisements to the newspapers in Bihar is now the chief minister's house?

The result being that no newspaper can dare raise its voice. Talk to the 'editors' in Bihar and you will know the truth.

Perhaps Nitish Kumar has realised that he has done his social engineering so well that now he will not need the BJP any more for the votes of the upper castes. A thoroughly chaotic and ineffective Congress party and the fear of the return of Lalu Yadav would drive them to Nitish in any case.

He has created so many official layers in the scheduled caste population that it is very difficult for even a person like Ram Vilas Paswan to act as its sole champion. During the five years of his rule, Nitish has perfected the art of social engineering which his former friend and predecessor had done somewhat crudely. This is going to hold for a while it seems and this has emboldened Nitish to mock the BJP publicly now.

The BJP knows very well that it cannot earn a majority on its own despite all the bravado being displayed by its leaders. Nitish knows that a shortfall in numbers could perhaps be compensated by flaunting his secular image more boldly which would make it easier for the Congress party to support it.

How can one forget that the first congratulations to Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik were from the Left after he severed his ties with the BJP? His past was forgotten, his silence over the Kandhamal riots was also forgiven. So it would be with Nitish and he is very confident about it.

By his recent sabre-rattling Nitish has tried to assume the mantle of Bihar Purush. Biharis have been longing for a real purush who will stand up to all who have been mocking Bihar all along. Did you not see how he dispatched his angry letter to the Mahrashtra chief minister in the wake of the anti-Bihari tirade of the Shiv Sena and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena?

What if he continued to part of the National Democratic Alliance of which the Shiv Sena is also an important constituent? Here is a man who is at last restoring prestige to Bihar.

The recent episode has unsettled the BJP in Bihar. They are not very sure about the final move by Nitish. There is hardly any time for them to mobilise their forces to make it possible to fight the Bihar assembly election alone.

In the last five years, their tallest leader in Bihar (Sushil Kumar Modi) has been and has always acted as the deputy to Nitish. His attempt to find an independent voice now does not look credible.

Secondly, Nitish has sent signals to the secular parties that they can see him as their potential ally. By allowing the image of Nitish to shadow it for so long, the BJP has practically killed its political possibilities and potential.

Would they now allow him to dictate the choice of the election campaigner? The BJP could not have imagined a worse scenario for itself.

If Nitish performs some more symbolic gestures, he would be able to exorcise himself of the evil communal influence. It would be a good alibi for the secular parties to throw their lot with the purified Nitish.

Bihar deserves better treatment from its observers and its leaders. We need to ask whether caste-based identity politics will be replaced by an alternative political language or whether the same old politics has become more sharp, even if in a sophisticated avatar under Nitish Kumar?

One also needs to examine the claims made by the Nitish government on its achievement to know the truth of the progress of development and growth. But that would require a dispassionate view, which unfortunately is rare in the case of Bihar.

Apoorvanand teaches at Delhi University.

Also read: Isn't it too late for Nitish Kumar to mount the moral high horse?

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