Nitish Kumar, man of few options, battles for survival

With the deadlock over Bihar’s Deputy CM Tejaswi Yadav’s refusal to resign and his party RJD threatening to pull out of the coalition government, CM Nitish Kumar has few easy options left before him.

Published: 16th July 2017 10:12 AM  |   Last Updated: 16th July 2017 10:12 AM   |  A+A-

Bihar CM Nitish Kumar. | File Photo

PATNA: With the deadlock over Bihar’s Deputy CM Tejaswi Yadav’s refusal to resign and his party RJD threatening to pull out of the coalition government, CM Nitish Kumar of JD(U) has few easy options left before him now.

Nitish, whose political capital is built on his clean image, keenly guards it and seeks to embellish it with an eye on the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. All his hints and words to persuade Tejaswi, the younger son of RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav, to resign after CBI registered a corruption case against him have fallen on deaf years. With RJD adamant on letting Tejaswi continue, Bihar’s grand alliance has inched towards the brink over the past nine days.

“The fact that JD(U) formed an alliance with the RJD chief in 2015 despite his conviction in a fodder scam case has been rankling Nitish. Now having to retain Tejaswi is unbearable for him,” said one of Nitish’s aides. But with Lalu making it clear that “an FIR is not a sufficient reason to resign”, there are few hard options left for Nitish.

For Nitish, it is now more a question of political survival than of carrying on with his famed “zero tolerance policy” for corruption. Allying with the politically wilier Lalu seems to be bending him low or forcing him out of his comfort zone. “He (Nitish) has to first survive before giving impetus to his vision of a better India,” said a JD(U) insider familiar with the permutations in the core groups of both the allies.

Option 1

Sacking Tejaswi, Shining Brighter

Going by Kumar’s no-nonsense style of work, he may be preparing to sack 28-year-old first-time MLA Tejaswi. This will amplify Nitish’s halo of a clean image. But the move may backfire, forcing RJD to pull out of the government or to use it as a handle to thrash JD(U) in the next elections. Besides, it can hand Tejaswi a ‘martyrdom’ he can use for electoral gains.

Option 2

Waiting Till Chargesheet is Filed

Nitish can give a restive RJD little longer rope, accepting Lalu’s argument and saying Tejaswi would have to quit once CBI files a charge-sheet in the corruption case. While this would allow Kumar resume running his government with less interference from RJD, it would earn him harder ridicule and protests from the Opposition BJP. Worse, Kumar would be viewed as having compromised his principles just to stay in power.

Option 3

Dissolving Assembly, Calling Polls

Buoyed by his pro-people initiatives such as prohibition, infrastructure building and minority welfare, Nitish may recommend dissolution of the Assembly for fresh polls. But it’s fraught with risks. Unlike Lalu’s sizeable Yadav community, Nitish has no solid caste base that promises ample votes. In a triangular contest, Nitish isn’t sure if he’ll return to power.

Option 4

Resigning, making someone else CM

He may repeat what he did after JD(U)’s crushing defeat in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. He had anointed Jitan Ram Manjhi as CM. JD(U) leaders say it is replete with “unwanted problems”.

Option 5

Joining NDA, playing second fiddle to BJP

As his actions have indicated in one year, Nitish may take JD(U) back to NDA and run his government with BJP support. While this will hasten the political erosion of RJD, it will kill 66-year-old Nitish’s PM ambitions. It will also surely spark protests from JD(U) leaders.

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