Bihar’s Nitish Kumar has just shown off his latest lodestone: record milk production. The state is now producing 18 lakh litres of milk, against the 4.5 lakh litres in 2008. No wonder. He is India’s new milkman of secularism, and was even able to milk the UPA of `12,000 crore as a special package for Bihar earlier this month. Not exactly small change, but it might go a long way in spoiling the big change in 2014.
Nitish, the holy cow of secularism, has an old beef with Narendra Modi. Many political pundits and opinion polls predict that neither national party will get a majority, and a Third Front will emerge after the General Elections. Nitish’s inner voice perhaps tells him that the udder of power is frothing with possibilities—if the Congress comes back to power with the support of allies old and new, he could demand to be placed on the prime ministerial saddle as the minority cowboy. His ‘secular’ credentials could appeal to both Mamata and Mulayam: apart from encouraging her lumpen cadres, Didi has started wooing Muslims, starting with the 2012 Panchayat polls. The Samajwadi Party rides on the minority vote. It is not the milk of human kindness that makes the Bihari Bull the champion of the downtrodden: between Modi and Nitish, it is a conflict of personal ambition—one is trying to craft a pan-India role while the other pretends to be already a national politician after having served as an NDA Union minister. Unless the BJP takes the bull by the horns now, the NDA will be Nitish’s china shop.
It was sheer opportunism that made Nitish throw in his lot with the NDA in 1998. For someone who attacks the Gujarat chief minister of being an accomplice to the 2002 riots, Nitish, as railway minister, did not resign when the Sabarmati Express was set on fire by a Muslim mob on February 27, 2002, burning alive 58 Hindus. The incident, for which he is morally responsible, sparked off the Gujarat riots. Ironically, he had earlier resigned after the Gaisal train accident. Here is a man who will exploit any situation to gild his image—even quitting to stay in power. Hence, the Congress would find India’s most opportunistic politician a convenient bulwark against the BJP.
The electrician from Patna and the Congress party are experts at social wiring with a short fuse. The son of an Ayurvedic physician, Nitish has a singular prescription—from minority butter comes the ghee of power. Nitish is India’s most communal politician. For example, at a time when the Supreme Court is cracking down on red beacons on cars, Bihar’s maulanas are saying cheese; the chief minister has been generous in giving away red lights—a symbol of power in India—to the maulanas. Clerics head Bihar’s Minority Commission, Wakf Board, Haj Committee and Madrasa Board. Since 2005, he has authored an animal farm that exceeds Orwellian premonition by balancing the interests of the Shias and the Sunnis, the Deobandis, the Barelvis and the Tablighis—a feat neither Lalu Prasad Yadav nor the Congress could achieve. By accusing Modi of playing the bull in the minority manger, Nitish has successfully claimed the rabble-rousing space of the secularist and camouflaged his divisive politics as the country’s great polariser.
Politics is the dairy farm of political ambition. Hoping for even a watered down version of power, non-NDA parties may soon acquire a herd mentality with Nitish as the cowherd. His strategy is to cowpat a majority for himself in Indraprastha next year by using minority pasteurisation. When the cows come home in the darkening godhul of dangerous politics, he could end up burning the farm as well as his fingers, but it will be India that will ultimately be set on fire, much like the Sabarmati Express many winters ago.