Clay Feet of God

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He had carefully cultivated the image of a development-oriented, clean man who could spearhead the political challenge to BJP. But this is the second time he’s gone with the saffrons... and lost the people’s trust

Ashok Mishra

Ashok Mishra

Ashok Mishra worked as Senior Assistant Editor of Hindustan Times, Patna. With an experience of nearly 32 years in journalism, he has extensively reported on emergence of Lalu Prasad

Till he resigned as chief minister of the three-party grand alliance government in Bihar last month, Nitish Kumar had emerged as a face of alternative politics in the country owing to his fight against BJP and his clarion call to make India “RSS-free” (Sangh-mukt Bharat) in 2019 general elections.

His unassuming persona and a dignified aura singled him out among many political personalities of the country. Called as ‘Chanakya’ for his political acumen, he had created an image of a no-nonsense politician who meant business. A trained electrical engineer and JP acolyte, Nitish had made his mark as one of the serious and articulate politicians touching on people-centric issues.

With his proven political and administrative wisdom, Kumar was even seen as a possible player on the national stage and had become a good bet for the top post for the secular forces.

But to the utter dismay of anti-BJP forces, Kumar did a Machiavellian turnaround last month falling into the lap of the BJP once again, leaving everyone stunned and the initiatives for a united opposition alliance against Narendra Modi in disarray.

Habitual Turncoat

People were also livid when he had quit NDA in 2013 and joined hands with RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav to pursue his hidden prime ministerial ambitions. But his current move has put a question mark on his political integrity, displayed his lust for power and inflicted an irreparable damage to his image.

His political journey rather hopping from socialist camp of Lohia-JP to his association with extreme left outfits like CPI-ML, from ‘communal’ BJP to the ‘secular’ camp and back, during his over 40-year-long political career has earned him a sobriquet of an ‘archetypal political turncoat’, who can join hands with anyone for power.

Nitish today stands weaker as his acceptability as an emerging leader on the national horizon has been seriously dented with his recent decision. He would have retained his image and aura had he gone for an election if it was becoming so difficult to run the government in association with the RJD due to unwarranted interference of Lalu Prasad.

Nitish, however, justifies his move of deserting the grand alliance saying that he cannot compromise on issues of corruption, secularism and development. He claimed to have followed secular policies more vigorously than any other secular leader or political outfit. Even while remaining with the BJP between 2005 and 2013, he had opened the Bhagalpur riot cases and done justice to the victims by giving compensation on the pattern of

1984 riots.

Soiled Dhoti

It appears now that every move of Nitish Kumar was calculated to serve his political interest, his obsession with power and survival in politics. The astute politician that he is, Nitish had won the elections through his deft political moves and blending his carefully-crafted secular image with pragmatic politics.

When he formed Samata Party with George Fernandes in 1994, he allied with the CPI-ML, an over-ground outfit of the revolutionary Maoists. It proved to be a misadventure and, in 1995 Assembly polls, the party won just seven seats, whereas Lalu Prasad bagged 167 of 324 seats.

As the experiment failed in 1995, Nitish shook hands with the BJP in 1996 when the saffron party was considered as ‘untouchable’ in the aftermath of the demolition of Babri Masjid, even though the then senior party leader Syed Shahabuddin had objected to it. The Samata Party won eight Lok Sabha seats in 1996 including six in Bihar and one each in UP and Odisha.

In 1998 general elections, the party’s strength rose to 12 and Nitish became minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in 1998 and 2004. In between, Nitish was offered the post of Bihar chief minister in 2000 but he could not prove his majority, even though he took support of over half-a-dozen Bahubalis (criminal-turned-politicians) despite his avowed intolerance towards crime and corruption. Eventually, he resigned within a week.

His desire to don the mantle of Bihar continued and he along with George Fernandes joined hands with erstwhile colleagues like Sharad Yadav and formed Janata Dal (U) in 2003. The experiment worked and people, disenchanted with the Lalu-Rabri Devi regime, voted

en masse in support of the NDA candidates in November 2005 and 2010 assembly polls.

Many Marriages

In 2013, Nitish took a calculated risk by breaking away from the NDA since he wanted to take a shot at the coveted role at the Centre riding on his popularity. He protested against elevation of Narendra Modi who was appointed campaign committee chairman. Finally, he quit NDA when it became clear that Modi would be NDA’s PM choice. Nitish’s ambition to emerge as a force and project himself as prime ministerial nominee was based on the premise that Muslims would join hands with him after breaking off from the NDA.

But the break-up proved costly and Nitish Kumar’s party could win only two out of 40 Lok Sabha seats in 2014 general elections. Eventually, he resigned owning ‘moral responsibility’ for the poll debacle and installed a Dalit leader Jitan Ram Manjhi as the chief minister. This experiment, however, did not work well and Nitish managed to dethrone Manjhi in the power struggle that ensued for over a month.

Before the 2015 Bihar assembly elections, Nitish played another gambit by forming a grand alliance or mahagathbandhan with RJD of Lalu Prasad and Congress in Bihar. Riding the pro-Mandal wave fanned by the Lalu-Nitish duo, the grand alliance won 178 assembly seats and Nitish took over the reins of Bihar for the fifth time last November.

As chief minister, Nitish has displayed his vision for development and prepared the ground for development of the chronic laggard state, Bihar, besides controlling lawlessness in the state. He also worked to provide economic content to social democracy, as large swathes of people, especially the Mahadalits, the Extremely Backward Castes, Other Backward Castes and women had reposed their trust in him.

Despite his earnest attempt, investments in agriculture and related infrastructure are yet to take off in a major way. This, in turn, is certainly going to impact the nearly 10.5 per cent growth that Bihar has been witnessing in recent years giving an epithet of ‘Vikas Purush’ to Nitish Kumar.

With 80 per cent population dependent on agriculture, the government will have to find ways to augment farm income and create jobs for nearly two crore youth,

who constitute 25 per cent of the

vote bank.

Goons’ Gallery

Guns and goons have played a key role in Bihar’s politics for decades. No political party or leader irrespective of their political philosophy has ever been averse to taking their support for winning elections or forming the government. Nitish too is not an exception as he had lawbreakers like Anant Singh in his party while Lalu Prasad has veterans like Shahabuddin and BJP has the likes of Satish Dube.

According to a report released by the Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR), altogether 22 of the 29 ministers, nearly 76 per cent, in the newly-formed Nitish Kumar cabinet face criminal charges. The percentage is higher than the corresponding figure for the erstwhile grand alliance government in which 19 of the 29 ministers, nearly 69 per cent, were tainted. Kumar needs to act and revamp his ministry for a clean administration.

As Nitish manoeuvered to get rid of Lalu Prasad during the last 20 months, the administration was plagued with sudden spurt in crime, which has given his rivals an arsenal to blow his image as ‘Sushasan Babu’ and create a wrong perception about Bihar. The government also has to take strong steps against corruption. The previous government had lodged graft cases against some officers, including director general-rank officers, and granted prosecution sanction in over 71,000 cases. The common perception is that the big time sharks and criminals can still rule the roost and while the Vigilance Department has made tall claims about hundreds of small time catches, none of the biggies have ever been satisfactorily booked.

Education Mess

Known for his penchant for hitting the headlines, Nitish strictly enforced prohibition in Bihar banning sale and consumption of liquor a promise he had made at his electoral meetings and rallies during the campaign for the 2015 Bihar Assembly elections. But the state administration has utterly failed to stop illegal sale of liquor in the state.

During Nitish regime, Bihar got more than its share of criticism on education and examination system. Ganesh Kumar, the 42-year-old, beat the system to top the class 12 examination. Ganesh completely fudged all the documents to take up the examination and topped in Bihar in Music.

Last year, the topper Ruby Rai had termed political science as ‘prodigal science’, bringing infamy to the state.

With a failing bureaucracy, Nitish faces a challenge of unabated bribery in government offices to get things done and unfulfilled aspirational needs in sectors like agriculture and welfare sectors. The capacity-building initiatives are yet to take off.

Services Failure

One of the most important reasons for people’s disenchantment is state government’s failure to fill up the vacancies of teachers, doctors and service delivery cadres. The attendance of students has increased but the paucity of teachers defeats the government’s goal of imparting education to the underprivileged children.

Nitish has set up the Bihar Vikas Mission to implement his “Saat Nischay” (seven resolves) announced before the assembly polls. His main resolves are piped water and free electricity connection to every household over the next five years, all-weather roads and drains, toilets in each home, 35 per cent reservation to women in government jobs, student credit card of Rs 4 lakh to students wishing to pursue higher education and setting up institutions of higher technical education.

It remains to be seen how soon the government fulfils its poll promise of providing 5,000 meritorious girl students with 2-wheelers, as this is bound to impact the already stressed state finances.

The state government will have to step up its infrastructure and social sector spending, if Nitish Kumar plans to win the battle of ‘perception’ about him after recent change in the political nature of government in Bihar.

Saffron Win

Remarrying BJP might be good for Bihar as well as Nitish but it doesn’t bode well for the opposition, which needs to be a strong in vibrant democracy. Individually, he has taken a high moral posture by severing ties with a party whose leaders face serious corruption charges. For Bihar, Nitish would now be able to get financial support from the Centre to take forward his development agenda.

The saffron party is vigorously pursuing its agenda to capture South and northeastern states. It is only Nitish, who could have been a star born anew on the Indian political horizon to stop BJP’s juggernaut. As Nitish said after forming the government recently that there was no challenge to Narendra Modi now in the country in the 2019 general elections, the opposition will have to project another leader to stop the saffron surge.

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