Sunday, 19 July 2015

THIRD TIME LUCKY?


After winning the last two state elections, both in alliance with the BJP, it remains to be seen if the incumbent Bihar CM - Nitish Kumar can score a memorable hat-trick, this time around with his new found allies. For the JD-U supremo, the elections are more than just a political battle; in fact, it is a wonderful opportunity to settle scores with none other than the PM himself. Post his bitter fallout with the BJP following the elevation of the then Gujarat CM Narendra Modi as NDA's official Prime Ministerial nominee in late 2013, Kumar was forced to eat the humble pie after being reduced to two seats in the parliamentary polls even as the NDA put up an impressive tally of 32. An unexpected alliance with Lalu's RJD and the Congress helped him save his party's government, although he had to take moral responsibility for the Lok Sabha debacle and make way for his then trusted lieutenant Jitam Ram Manjhi for the post of CM. The move back-fired as Manjhi began to become more assertive, undermining Nitish's hold on the state government. However, the astute politician that he is, Kumar was back at the helm of affairs within months of resigning and has even been declared by the Janta Parivaar (JP) as its official CM candidate for the Bihar polls.

WHAT 'VICTORY' MEANS TO NITISH KUMAR AND THE JD-U?

A spate of political blunders along with a few electoral miscalculations has reduced the once powerful Bihar chieftain to a mere shadow of his past. Months before the 2014 polls, he was looked upon by many as a potential PM candidate in case of a hung Parliament. Alas, post the drubbing that the JD-U received in the Lok Sabha elections last year, many were left wondering if the 'Chanakya' would ever rise again from the ashes and script a political comeback. From Nitish's perspective, the upcoming state polls is the perfect opportunity to put the horrors that he has been through in the last two years behind him and catapult himself into the big league of strong regional satraps that presently includes Mamta, Jayalalithaa, Patnaik and Mulayum.

Nitish Kumar - Facebook
A win for Nitish is easier said than done; apart from an upbeat NDA, another head-ache for Nitish is to make sure that the parties that he is leading - the Janata Dal-United (JD-U), the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) work together as a team. Most of these parties till very recently were at logger-heads with each other and keeping them together amidst the heat of the battle is going to be an arduous task within itself. Apart from seat-sharing arrangements, he also has to use all his political acumen in handling the egos of other prominent leaders including his friend-turned-foe-turned-friend Lalu Prasad Yadav. Another problem is to make sure that the cadre of the four parties put up a united show to combat the NDA. Lastly, we know that in a state infested with caste based politics, each of Bihar's political parties has its own strong vote bank; it is extremely crucial that the votes loyal to individual parties are transferred to the coalition as a whole so that the consolidation can help it overcome the challenge posed by the NDA. In fact, a win here in the advent of all these differences will be an ode to the leadership qualities of Nitish Kumar, thereby making him the undisputed No. 2 within the ranks of the JP. At 64, Nitish is still young by our political standards and if he continues to do well, he will succeed Mulayum as the leader of the new formation. Moreover, a win for the Kumar led combine will also give a much needed impetus to the merger of the various constituents of the regional formation which could turn into a major threat to the NDA in the coming future.

The Bihar polls is more than a fight between the NDA and the JP; it is the second installment of the epic fight between the PM Narendra Modi and the JD-U chief. While Modi was still the CM of Gujarat, Nitish had at many times taken pot-shots at him in a bid to appease his minority vote bank. On several occasions he had asked the former to stay away from his state during campaigning and had even returned the money that the Gujarat strong man had given as relief to the victims during the 2009 Bihar floods. Unfortunately, it was Modi who had the last laugh as Modi-mania swept Bihar, reducing the JD-U to shambles last May. Besides stepping down from the post of the CM, Kumar also had to take some tough decisions like compromising on his ideological principles and forging an alliance with his bĂȘte noire Lalu Yadav. It is but natural that he is now seeking vengeance and the best way to avenge his losses is by beating the BJP led NDA in the all important state of Bihar.

A BATTLE WITHIN A BATTLE: THE NITISH-LALU SAGA

People aware of the political conditions in the state will know that there is a battle being fought between Nitish and Lalu amidst all the bonhomie that they put up in front of the media. Back in the early nineties, the JD-U chief and the RJD supremo were comrades within the then Janata Party. However, they soon fell apart as Yadav broke the party to launch the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and thus began one of the most bitter rivalries in Indian politics. The bad blood between them continued for nearly two decades during which both leaders dominated the state politics for a period of a decade each. However, the need to remain relevant in the aftermath of BJP's astounding win in 2014 prompted them to dissolve their differences and join hands. However, differences still remain; besides seat sharing arrangements, both wanted the CM chair for themselves or their candidates. As such it is hardly surprising that though he may not be eligible for holding the post of the CM following his conviction in the Fodder Scam, Yadav is certainly not very pleased with Nitish's anointment as the JP's Chief Ministerial nominee.

No wonder then that though he is leading the strong formation against the BJP, Nitish has to somehow make sure that the JD-U gets more seats than the RJD. Though he may have been named as the coalition's leader, knowing the 'cunning fox' that Lalu is, he could easily create a ruckus post the elections and may force the JP to reconsider its decision. In that scenario, if the RJD has more MLAs than the JD-U, he could well have his way and force Nitish Kumar to sit out. As such, to be sure that he does not face any sort of threat or black mail from the Yadav strong man anytime in the future, Nitish should work towards maximizing his numbers so that the JD-U is the largest constituent of the coalition once the results are announced.

WHAT 'DEFEAT' MEANS TO NITISH KUMAR AND THE JD-U?

A defeat to the JP in the upcoming polls will be a monumental disaster for the JD-U and more so, for its leader Nitish Kumar. Apart from five years of political isolation, he will be relegated to the position of a minor player in state as well as national politics. Certainly, following the humiliation that he has gone through in the last couple of years, this is the last thing that Kumar would wish for. Moreover, a win for the NDA will only enhance the stature of his political foe - Narendra Modi. And as if all this was not enough, a loss for the coalition will give Lalu Prasad an opportunity to squarely put the blame of the defeat on Nitish in a bid to earn some political brownie points while exonerating himself.

Lastly, the loss in Bihar will also be in some ways, the death knell for the Janta Parivaar. The only reason that has united former enemies Lalu and Nitish is the prospect of victory and the need to stay relevant within political circles. However, a defeat in Bihar will change all this. Since there will be no incentive to stay together in wake of all the ideological differences, the two parties will rather prefer staying independent, isn't it? Give it a thought!