Nitish’s outburst

The JD(U) leader takes on Yogi Adityanath over infiltration, says he is fighting his last election. Will this rescue his political worth?

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is fighting the binary of being wanted and unwanted at the same time. And is desperate to squeeze some self-worth in between, be it for legacy or future rehabilitation. He is wanted by his dominant alliance partner, the BJP, as the chief ministerial face, given his regional appeal, the absence of a towering leader in its own State unit and his utility as a deflector of criticism that the Central party gobbles up allies. At the same time, he is unwanted by the people for a dismal performance in his last term, a burden that the BJP is not quite happy with, what with the ignominy of onions being hurled at him. On his part, the Janata Dal (United) leader is torn, too, between his ideological moorings as a secular-socialist and political expediency. A conflict he had forcibly resolved to stay relevant but is now too tired to continue. Which is why he publicly announced that this would be his last election as campaigning for the State Assembly election ended yesterday. Perhaps, that also explains his exasperation with the BJP without which he would not have got the throne after he deserted Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Lalu Yadav. Even now, it is the BJP carpet-bombing the State all the way and deploying Prime Minister Narendra Modi, generating a swell that could get him there. But at heart, Nitish knows that he wouldn’t really be deserving of the verdict if he got it, facing as he does unprecedented negativity for failing to push the State’s development, mishandling the pandemic and bungling the rehabilitation of jobless migrant workers and students. Besides, he doesn’t want to be seen as further ignoring local issues or being swept away by the tide of the BJP, which has predictably talked only about national issues than pledging deliverables at the State level. Or be seen as betraying his grain. So in the last leg, he reached out to Muslim voters in the Seemanchal region, dispelling fears over UP Chief Minister and BJP campaigner Yogi Adityanath’s speech on “throwing out infiltrators” and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. Though he did not name Adityanath, he dismissed the speech as “faltu”, saying everyone was an Indian and safe in his State. He even tweeted, “It is our duty and in our culture to take everyone along. Bihar will progress only then.” Clearly, he is against the BJP’s Hindutva-driven agenda and its positioning of everything else as anti-national. A seasoned politician, he knows that the Opposition, now spearheaded by the feisty RJD leader and Lalu’s son Tejashwi Yadav, has a pulse of the locals. Therefore, he wants to make the right noises than appear as a genuflecting stooge. Besides, Nitish has an axe to grind with Adityanath, who is the new-found favourite of Bihar’s electorate, comprising a large chunk of returnee migrants and students, for rehabilitating them in camps in UP. Nitish has never been comfortable with either the new citizenship law or the National Register of Citizens (NRC). In fact, the JD(U) suffered a blow with party vice-president Prashant Kishor publicly asking him to rethink the support for the legislation. And though Nitish assured that NRC would not be implemented in the State, he did not contest the CAA for enabling a religion-based criterion that privileged naturalisation of persecuted refugees. But now, at the fag end of his political career, he is not willing to compromise his integrity anymore.

The man, who once built his relevance by pitting the majoritarian BJP against the secular-socialist Lalu, oscillating between both depending on trade winds, is now trapped by his own machinations. He cannot go back to Lalu or the secular camp, having shut the door forever when he chose the BJP. And although he crafted a new caste equation, uniting the most downtrodden, the extreme backward castes and Dalits, that number-crunching did nothing to solve what became a statewide epidemic of joblessness and hopelessness. The BJP, though ambitious about being the single largest party in the State and having its own CM some day, will be charioteering Nitish for now. And despite promising big economic packages and special status in 2015, it didn’t quite push them, unwilling to benefit Nitish by association, preferring to keep him at its mercy. With his political stock at an all-time low, he could be attacking the BJP to show that he still counts. And by dramatically signing off on the campaign as his last, he might be hoping for some emotional response that gives some respectability to JD(U) than it being reduced to the status of a B-team of the BJP. But if he goes back on these statements again, he would be lost forever.

Source: The Pioneer