Politics is the art of excuses. In Bihar, the excuse to parade expediency as ethics was proffered by Chief Minister-at-any-Cost Nitish Kumar, whose political imprisonment by his corrupt, nepotistic former partner Lalu Yadav had gone on long enough. Chafing under his gaoler’s control and contempt, Nitish was finding the partnership untenable to keep his image clean.
Lalu had dared him to sack Tejashwi, his hapless heir and deputy chief minister. However, Nitish retaliated by sacking himself and return to the embrace of his old frenemy, the BJP to keep his chair. If probity is his excuse, why did he go for a partnership with RJD in the first place? Lalu Yadav is one of the most corrupt politicians in the country. As the CBI unearths one scam after the other, exposing a blatant loot of public money, it is difficult to believe that Nitish as a three-time CM, had no inkling of his partner’s venality or his connections with the mafia.
But then, power corrupts, and the absolute desire to stay in power corrupts absolutely. Nitish may not be guilty of monetary corruption, but he is guilty of moral corruption in supping with a short spoon with Lalu. As a leader who broke away from the NDA blaming Narendra Modi, he has always claimed to be a secular politician who wears his humanity on his sleeve. It can’t be a coincidence that a crucial segment of his vote bank is the Muslim poor in Bihar.
Nitish realises the BJP, under Modi and Amit Shah, is no longer just a political party. It’s an empire of the imaginaion—a ruthless organism of political imperialism that seeks to make all of India its own. But then, power is the dharma of politics. To survive, Nitish revived his bromance with Modi, a man he loathed and abused. Lalu was going down. Nitish didn’t want to go down with him. For a self-professed idealist, it is jarring that he didn’t seek fresh elections. BJP’s sweeping mandate in Uttar Pradesh was a warning he could not ignore.
Which begs the larger question; what is expected of a politician? Ancient political philosophy expected leaders to have high ethical standards. The philosopher king is Plato’s ideal ruler; one with a love of knowledge, intelligence and credibility who leads an austere life. The spirit of democracy presupposed a symbiosis between the ruler and the subject—Plato defined a citizen as one “who shares in governing and being governed”.
However, the citizen’s share in governance today ends after voting. The irony is that the government expects the citizen to behave ethically. To pay his taxes. To ensure cordial conduct in society. To desist from crime. To defend his nation. However, do political leaders behave in a manner expected of them? Nada. The only austerity today’s leader exhibits is of ethics.
Since the fall of Britain, which believed in a class bred to rule, the demystification of power led to the emergence of a new political class, which found virtue in the dumbing down of leadership. A winner with a hard luck story is the post-20th century hero—one without degree or pedigree. A few exceptions notwithstanding, winning elections is the only qualification to govern—not education, social skills or a grand national vision. Lalu or Nitish cannot be blamed for being the opportunists they are. It’s we who are responsible for the degeneration of political leadership.