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Before cracking down on Lalu, Nitish should think hard

Ashutosh | Updated on: 15 July 2017, 22:39 IST

Bihar politics is undergoing a first-rate crisis – one that has the potential to not only alter the politics of Bihar, but may also have severe repercussions for national politics.

Lalu Prasad Yadav and Nitish Kumar are old friends who, as they grew in stature, got along less and less. They belonged to the same political colour and competed for the same space and aspired to achieve the same political goals.

Together they could have proved to be formidable; but cohabitation would have meant suppressing their ego and inculcating a sense of discipline that has never been the hallmark of socialists mentored by the legendary Ram Manohar Lohia.

And once again they are on the war path. The Mahagathbandan in Bihar is in deep trouble and so is the secular polity of the country.

Those in the know, claim that the tension has been simmering for a long time – in fact it began immediately after the government was formed.

Lalu allowed Nitish to run the government despite having more members in the Legislative Assembly. Lalu got two of his sons into the Cabinet, one as the deputy CM and another one as a senior minister.

It was rather obvious that Nitish would have been uncomfortable with a deputy who is a green horn with no experience in politics. But the resentment internally was more due to Lalu Yadav’s abrasive nature. He assumed he had a bigger stake in the government and that he had a right to meddle with the administration, which of course Nitish did not like.

He believed that his authority was being eroded and a parallel power centre was compromising governance. Therefore it is easy to infer that he was looking for an opportunity to send a message across to the rival camp. The CBI raids on Lalu's family and Benami property scam happened at the most opportune time.

Another argument is that for some time now, Nitish has been sending out contrary signals. He was one of the very first among non-BJP leaders who praised the surgical strike.

When everyone was critical of demonetisation Nitish tread an unfamiliar path and said one should not be jumping to any conclusions and first see the results. He was rather appreciative of Modi's move.

His critics and the secular brigade both were confused. Both were looking for an answer. Nitish was cool. He behaved like an elder statesman who plays fair even with his opponents.

But what was really surprising was his stance on the issue of the presidential candidate. He openly declared his support for the BJP nominee – Ram Nath Kovind. Let's not forget that Nitish was the original proponent of a joint Opposition candidate.

A crisis was staring everyone in the face and the future suddenly started to seem dubious. The FIR against Tejaswi was perhaps the last nail in the coffin.

There is just an FIR. In Modi's time if an FIR can be made the reason for a minister to resign his/her post, then there will be mayhem all across and no Opposition leader will be entitled to a public position.

AAP is a living example of being a victim of Modi's dirty tricks department and leaders of other political spectrum are also feeling the heat.

This does not mean that Lalu and his family should be given a clean chit. But an FIR alone can't be the reason for resignation, unless one is dead sure about the culpability of the person.

Now Nitish's party is talking about honesty and probity in public life and also about value-based politics. But then did Nitish and his party not think about these values while forging an alliance with Lalu Yadav? Or was it invented in the last few months?

his is a relevant question. Everybody knows about Lalu Yadav. There have been serious corruption charges against him. The Fodder Scam has been his undoing. He has been convicted and was disqualified to contest elections for six years.

In fact if I go back in time, the original Janta Dal in the 1990s split into many parties due to the corruption cases against him. He refused to let go of his constitutional/party position even when he was chargesheeted in the fodder scam case; later he was arrested and jailed too.

It was at this time that Nitish and Lalu drifted apart. Lalu continued to be the strongman of Bihar despite several court cases and arrest, while Nitish was left in the wilderness till he found solace in the arms of the BJP.

In 2013 Nitish broke his alliance with the BJP on the issue of Modi being a polarising figure. Closer to the Assembly elections he was looking for an alliance partner and he could only find Lalu, a convicted leader debarred from elections.

Critics created a furore about the alliance being doomed as it would tarnish Nitish’s reputation of an honest politician. They said that Lalu's image would have a negative impact on Nitish too.

But critics were up for a massive disappointment; the Mahagathbandan trounced Modi in Bihar. The Nitish-Lalu combine attained a spectacular victory and the BJP could not fulfill its dream of forming the government, in fact it met with humiliating defeat.

So, one can ask, did Nitish not compromise then on his values when he allied with a "corrupt-convicted-Laloo"? Was he not aware of Lalu's conviction, serious charges of corruption, his arrest and his days in jail? If yes then why he did not muster the courage to go it alone in the assembly elections?

Did it not tarnish his image? Did he not sacrifice his values for political expediency? Why should Lalu not assume that Nitish used him to become the chief minister? Why should Lalu not feel betrayed? These are the questions which need answers. But Nitish is silent.

Tejasvi's is neither chargesheeted nor have charges been framed against him in any court of law. The investigations are still on and are at a very early stage. Let me also remind readers that this complaint against Lalu and his family was lodged by Nitish's own party way back in 2007.

In fact, IBN7 had run a story, exposing Lalu's alleged involvement. So there is nothing new except the sudden interest of the Central Bureau of Investigation, the Enforcement Directorate and the Income-Tax department in the matter.

These agencies have been let loose on every Opposition party by the Modi government, followed by a hounding campaign by TV editors/anchors. Critics are tempted to find a link between raids and the lunch meeting between Modi and Nitish.

The case is not as simple as it has been made out to be. There are wheels within wheels. I wonder if it is linked to the 2019 parliamentary elections.

If the Opposition is successful in putting in place a Bihar like Mahagathbandan in Uttar Pradesh then the BJP and Modi could be in trouble and it would be difficult to repeat 2014 in this northern state.
Nitish was the original author of this thesis. He successfully did this in Bihar and he was propagating the same in UP and also at the all India level. But he has now suddenly changed his tune.

Now he seems to be inclined towards Modi and the BJP. It can't be without a reason. Let's not forget that Nitish had a very antagonistic relationship with Modi.

He has never hidden his views about him. He once said that Modi is not somebody who will carry every section of the society, especially minorities, along. Now if he junks Lalu he will have no option other than looking at the same Modi for support whom he once found practicing communalism.

Will he compromise with his secular values and embrace communalism like he did before to stay in power?

Nitish should also not forget that Modi is no Vajpayee or Advani who played fair. BJP might support Nitish till 2019 for winning parliamentary seats but afterwards it can withdraw support from him like Indira Gandhi did with Charan Singh or like Rajiv Gandhi did with Chandrashekhar.

Why should the BJP not take the gamble of going to the polls and win the confidence of people of Bihar? It won't be a bad bargain for the BJP either. Nitish is a very smart politician.

I am sure he is aware of Indian political history and about the nature of the incumbent in the South Block as well.

(Ashutosh is an official spokesperson for the Aam Aadmi Party. The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of the organisation.)


Edited by Joyjeet Das

First published: 15 July 2017, 18:46 IST