The Unmaking of Nitish Kumar (Spurned by the Opposition and Even the BJP)
Dinner diplomacy with Amit Shah
NEW DELHI: There is probably not an unhappier politician today than Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar who is sending out all the signals of a man trapped in an alliance he no longer wants to be part of. But now has no other option as he prepares to meet with Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah over “two meals” as the media has been briefed in an effort to misgivings though now Kumar has claimed he has none.
This invite for dinner by the CM to Amit Shah has revived not so happy memories of eight years ago when Kumar had cancelled a similar dinner invite for BJP leaders visiting Patna at the time. And as local BJP leaders said, the party has the memory of an elephant and does not forget such slights easily. However, for now both Kumar and Shah will be breaking bread to prepare for the general elections, and ensure a smooth relationship in the run up to the polls.
What had seemed to be a coup d’etat when Nitish Kumar deserted the grand alliance with the Congress and the Rashtriya Janata Dal to join hands with the BJP despite the overwhelming vote in the state for the former, has turned into shackles that the ageing and fading politician is finding difficult to withstand. His recent scurrying around looking for an opening into the Opposition camp indicated this very clearly.
Kumar has been sending out signals lately that he is unhappy with the BJP, his ally in Bihar. And that he is looking at the Opposition again. However, his messages are finding no takers with Lalu Prasad Yadav’s son Tejaswai Yadav now at the helm of the Rashtriya Janata Dal in Bihar freezing him out. The Congress too has not responded although there are always leaders in that party willing to string the likes of Nitish Kumar along. Why close the doors, is the policy though officially the Delhi leadership of the party does not seem to be particularly interested.
Kumar tried to move out of the BJP ambit by entertaining an All India Assam Students delegation who were seeking his support to oppose the Citizenship Amendment Bill. He made much of this visit, first supporting their demands long distance, and then meeting them to press home the fact that he was with the rest of the opposition insofar as criticising the BJP proposal as a threat to Assam was concerned.
Nitish Kumar has drawn a blank from most other opposition parties who are reluctant to accept him back into the fold as it were. As a senior RJD leader told The Citizen, “Kumar has betrayed his own peoples mandate, how can there be any alliance with him now.” Besides, given the surge in popularity of the RJD in Bihar since, the JD(U) is being seen as on its last legs in the state.
And this after Nitish Kumar was being considered, and very seriously so, by the opposition parties as a consensus Prime Ministerial candidate after he and the grand alliance won the Bihar state elections. In fact he had been amongst the first to start the Opposition unity ball rolling by urging then Congress president Sonia Gandhi to take the initiative in forming a broad front. However within months, in fact July 2017, Nitish Kumar decided not to attend a meeting of 17 parties in Delhi stating that he had called his party leaders to a conclave in Patna.
Kumar preferred then to go along with the BJP, resigned, and then came back as the state CM with the BJP instead of the Congress and RJD. BJP leader Sushil Modi was in charge, but within the year the latter has been replaced by the hardliners in the party who have now started giving the Chief Minister a tough time. Besides sending out the signal that Kumar, along with leaders like Sushil Modi, are expendable in the new hard polarised politics that the BJP seems to have decided to adopt in the run up to the Lok Sabha polls.
Union Minister Giriraj Singh seems to be driving the BJP agenda in Bihar. Just like Minister Jayant Sinha who felicitated the convicts of the Ramgarh lynching of Alimuddin, Giriraj Singh met Bajrang Dal convicts of communal violence in jail, expressing full support. He told the media that he perceived the arrests as an attempt to “suppress the Hindus” and that he was “helpless” because of the coalition in the state. According to sections of the media Singh said, "It is very saddening to see that the government feels that communal harmony will be there only if they suppress Hindus. I request the state government and the society to let go of this kind of attitude."
Nitish Kumar despite being the CM of the state could only criticise Singh’s action when asked about this by reporters maintaining, “ this is not acceptable.” He further added,“Such open display of sympathy for those found guilty by the administration is not proper. This is only a media stunt. Such acts create an unhealthy atmosphere for the people of the country.”
However, the BJP far from being chastened unleashed two more leaders against him with Sanjay Paswan and Nawal Kishore Chaudhary defending Singh and his meeting with the convicts at Nawada jail as “normal activities of elected representatives”. In fact, Paswan went on to add that Kumar’s comments showed that his party still “harbours a mentality of appeasement towards the minorities.”
Opposition leaders spoken to were clear that Kumar was not acceptable, and would have to climb down several notches if he wanted even a conversation. RJD’s Tejaswi Yadav has already stated that he should resign as CM and then talk. Given the resurgence of the RJD, the JD(U) has lost considerable support within the state.