SEEMA MUSTAFA | 3 SEPTEMBER, 2017
Cabinet Reshuffle ..Yawn, But Why Has Nitish Kumar Been Left Out?
NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi has reshuffled his Council of Ministers. Some new, some old, but no one really worthy of special mention in a government where the writ of only one prevails. Some have been shifted out, perhaps not because of performance, but because they were unable to bond with the PM and BJP president with clout Amit Shah. Some others have been brought in, to represent states going to the polls for instance. Perhaps the one who stands out in the new appointments of traditional BJP/RSS members, is career diplomat Hardeep Puri, waiting in the wings since 2014 where his strong endorsement of the BJP and PM Modi was not sufficient to get him in. But 3 years of tapasya has managed this, and he is in from the cold, a minister at last!
But for all the searing eyes from Bihar, the cabinet reshuffle has been a major disappointment. Even as the Lalu Prasad Yadav camp exults in quiet glee, the Janata Dal(U) is seething. After all their Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had let it be known---albeit quietly---when he decided to join the BJP that the party would have at least one Cabinet and one Minister of State in the Council of Ministers at the centre. But no, there was no sign of it, and clearly Kumar has replaced Puri as the man out in the cold.
The difference of course is that while Hardeep Puri is just the one person, with little to bring to offer except loyalty to PM Modi and the government, Nitish Kumar runs an important state. He is the Chief Minister of Bihar, and gave his state on a platter to the BJP by resigning from the alliance with the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress, and re-forming the government as it were with the BJP as his new partner. Surely he was not being too ambitious in expecting a couple of berths at the centre or more for his party leaders, so that the JD(U) could solidify and consolidate as a national entity.
But no, this was clearly not to be. As PM Modi and Shah decided that like Hardeep Puri, Nitish Kumar should also go through the agni pariksha. And prove his loyalty, as clearly while they are in alliance with him, the element of trust has taken a beating. Remember, Kumar was in government with the BJP, ditched it to forge an alliance with its opponents for the last elections, ditched the new allies to go back to the BJP…. So why would any political party worth its salt, allow him the space from where he can strengthen himself and ditch them again?
The strategy thus, is to keep Kumar and the JD(U) confined to Bihar. In the knowledge that now he has become untouchable for the other two main parties in the state, as both the RJD and Congress will not go near him after what their leaders have repeatedly described as the grand betrayal. In fact Lalu Yadav’s huge rally underscoring this for the electorate has sealed the divide, with Kumar now having no option but to remain with the BJP.
All others know that his power to win the election on his own is limited, and even if popular he does not have the caste support in a state influenced by these fragmentations. He was at his peak in popularity in the recent Assembly elections, but even so his party got less seats that Lalu Yadav’s RJD. In that the latter revived with the alliance with Nitish Kumar, and surged ahead on the basis of Nitish Kumars popularity and his own caste vote.
Hence now in Bihar the Nitish Kumar phenomenon, as many in the Opposition had once acclaimed, is cut to size now with the over ambitious CM finding his avenues compromised, and hence very limited. The non-BJP opposition has closed its doors, and the BJP never really star struck has realised this, and hence is clear that it does not need to over-accommodate him in its plans for 2019.
Besides, Nitish Kumar is a socialist, Janata Dal, Mandal supporter. All anathema to the BJP that stands on the opposing side. He can never be a inner member, and the BJP effort as RJD leaders from Bihar have no hesitation in saying, will be to gradually neutralise him. His popularity has already taken a beating with the defection, and the BJP is clear that it will use what it hopes will be a short piggy back ride to strengthen its own base, and its own organisation in the state. The beginnings are already visible, with specific responsibilities being given to the BJP state leaders in a bid to bring the state directly into the BJP net during the Lok Sabha elections. As Congress legislator told the Citizen, “for the BJP Nitish Ji is just temporary, you call it nuisance or necessity, but they do not have long term use for him now.”