Napoleon Bonaparte famously and provocatively said, “A leader is a dealer in hope.” Our leaders have improved upon Napoleon. Indian political leaders have become dealers in hype. They hawk their virtues as if they are the best of rulers. They market themselves as the maker of a modern society. Even those who control just a tiny district market use megaphones to create an impression, as if they have acquired pan-Indian market and acceptability. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is doing exactly that. His is not selling his state to the rest of the country as a model of good governance, he is merely telling the country what is not good for him or India. For him, it is Narendra Modi, and not the UPA, that poses a bigger threat to communal harmony. Without holding any office in his party, it is Nitish who is the extra-constitutional centre of power in the Janata Dal (United), simply because he is the chief minister. His state remains without proper electricity and water supply. Bihar’s educational system has collapsed. Caste conflicts are on the rise. Yet, his cacophonics dictate political discourse in the National Democratic Alliance.
The Nitish-Modi war reflects the demolition of the institutional framework to deal with contradictions. In the fight between two individuals, their parties have become just tools. Nitish has acquired a larger-than-life stature because the BJP leadership has outsourced the dialogue between the Bihar chief minister to either individuals with strong corporate connections or those who don’t want the Gujarat chief minister to be the rallying point for the NDA’s fight against the UPA.
Moreover, the feud symbolises yet another malaise inflicting India’s political culture. As national parties lose their national character, a group of individuals define the political narrative. Both the BJP and Congress are losing allies because they have failed to evolve a mechanism that deals with issues and not a few individuals like Nitish, who are now becoming their most potent destabilising factors.
An analysis of Nitish’s political conduct during the last few weeks reveals an interesting trend. He has been softer on the Congress and the Prime Minister, and harder on the BJP and Narendra Modi. He runs a coalition with the BJP in his own state. On various social parameters, the Bihar government has done much better than even Gujarat. Interestingly, the performance of all Bihar’s BJP ministers is much better than than that of those belonging to the JD(U). Yet, Nitish has been grabbing all the credit. He has been talking about coalition dharma, which he has been himself violating with impunity by attacking Modi on every possible platform. The metamorphosis of a former diehard socialist to a populist parvenu happened more due to the drive of individual ambition and not any ideological idealism.
Political analysts feel Nitish has chosen to attack Modi as part of his strategy to grab the centre stage and divert attention from his plummeting popularity at home. Nitish was furious after a series of opinion polls showed that Modi was more popular than him in Bihar. One poll conducted by a local agency concluded that Modi’s individual popularity was more than the combined ratings of both Nitish and Rahul Gandhi with the former coming third. Over 70 per cent respondents wanted Modi to be the Prime Minister as against just 21 percent who preferred Nitish. Another poll predicted that even if Nitish joins the Congress-led alliance, the BJP would poll more votes than both the JD(U) and Congress combined.
Nitish has always prevented Modi from entering the state on one pretext or the other. He sharpened his attack on Modi soon after the Gujarat chief minister acquired wider acceptability within his own party and also in other parts of the country. Nitish was also encouraged by a powerful section of the BJP who don’t want Modi to become a formidable prime ministerial candidate. FoNIs (Friends of Nitish) in the BJP have been feeding the Bihar honcho with all the ammunition and ideological justification needed to stall Modi’s elevation. They ensured that the BJP talks to only Nitish and not the Janata Dal President Sharad Yadav for the resolution of crises. BJP leaders hosted dinners and lunches for Nitish Kumar, but forgot to invite leaders of their own party, including its president. Even in Bihar, the BJP is known as Nitish’s B-Team. He dictates the BJP’s ministers, and even the election of its state president. According to Bihar government sources, most BJP leaders have been compromised and Nitish has collected dossiers on each of them.
Even in his own party, there is resentment against Nitish over his inaccessibility and arrogance. Actually, he wasn’t the JD(U)’s first choice for the chief minister’s post. It was Uma Bharti, the then BJP-in-charge of the state who unilaterally announced Nitish as the leader of the coalition without even taking other leaders into confidence. Nitish was elected the leader only later. Hardcore BJP workers are also annoyed with him for his soft attitude towards terror attacks. They claim he has never spoken against J&K chief minister Omar Abdullah for supporting extremist elements. Nitish has been silent over the failure of the Congress government to mete out justice to the perpetrators of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. Strangely, BJP leaders swear by its structured and institutional system, but most of its leaders are ones who weaken and sabotage the party to gain personal allies and benefits. Unless the BJP calls Nitish’s bluff, it is going to be reduced to just another party, which will be led by outsiders and not by its forgotten and ideologically committed insiders.
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