Friendship turned sour in politics is quite a cliché put to enormous use and misuse over the years by political parties of every hue and colour. This one trait in Indian political parties has consistently grabbed onomatopoeic headlines mostly centring around shock and bewilderment.
So, why was it that Nitish Kumar’s betrayal of his associate-turned-foe-turned political ally Lalu Prasad Yadav did not evince shock or amazement from quarters it was most expected. Why was it that Laloo Yadav’s whining he has been a ‘victim of conspiracies’ hatched by communal forces to slight him and his equally ‘picchhda’ vote bank found no takers this time round. Why was it that Nitish’s slipping straight into the open arms of Modis ( Narendra and Sushil, more so the former since his bhakt-chiseled chest size is more ‘virat’ and viral than the latter) after dumping his ‘bade bhai’ is not being read mainly at the narcissistic intersection of secularism vs communalism, debates around which has the country in a tailspin past three years. Why is it that Nitish’s politics of convenience cannot be judged purely on his roller-coaster relationship with former ally RJD without the mention of the third equally important player in the ‘mahagatbandhan’ - the Congress party.
It is not easy to pin point exact answers to this political sudoku but one cannot pretend to ignore veritable play of cause and effect that have been on exhibit in Bihar political chessboard since 2013 when Nitish decided to break ties with its oldest ally BJP after the party declared Narendra Modi as its Prime Ministerial face for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
It was a bold yet risky move and going by the rumblings on the ground many assailed Nitish for what was dubbed in certain quarters as political harakari. Yet he stuck to his guns risking his life’s entire political earnings at the altar of politics being increasingly polarised by the BJP in its all out effort to capture power at the centre after a hiatus of ten years.
With Modi as its face, BJP went all out to capture the minds of the voters. That Modi sought to temper his aggressive Hindutva politics by putting on the mask of ‘vikas’ proved to be a winsome combination. The BJP not only covered its ground well but crossed the magic figure without the aid of its allies.
The Modi tsunami rocked Nitish boat hard as JD(U) could manage to win only two seats, a humiliating come down from 20 seats it won in 2009. Though none in his party could have questioned his authority, Nitish delivered a masterstroke when owning moral responsibility for the poll debacle he stepped down as the chief minister.
Modi’s rise at the centre also coincided with the Congress party’s almost near and total decimation. The party buckled under the weight of its own inefficiency and corruption and was left nursing its wounds.The verdict had swung decisively back to the political right. The narrative had changed dramatically overnight. Eight months down the line and the Congress party would draw a historical cypher in the elections to the Delhi Assembly.
Those wounded by the Congress debacle and mourning the loss of space for secular politics at the Centre suddenly turned to Nitish as if he held a magic wand. This included the Congress itself. The Congress faced a double whammy. Having lost power at the Centre the party seemed to lack the necessary stamina and the will to take on BJP’s aggressive Hindutva packaged in nationalism that ejected one Congress government after another from states across the country. Rahul Gandhi’s uninspiring leadership only quickened the pace of Congress downfall.
Nitish’s electoral pact with his bete noire Lalu Yadav and taking on the Congress on board the Mahagatbandhan spawned a whole new breed of naysayers. But Nitish also realised the limitations of winning an election. Personal integrity can help you get there but not quite unless you represent the dominant backward caste among the OBCs. He needed numbers in the next Assembly that eluded him in parliamentary polls to stay relevant in Bihar politics as Modi had already clipped his wings to fly north towards New Delhi. Having cut the umbilical cord with the BJP only because of Modi, Nitish found Laloo waiting for him at the next intersection.
Nitish-Laloo hit the bull’s eye in 2015 Assembly elections. The RJD-JD(U) combination clicked big time, registering victory bigger than any Nitish had had in conjunction with his old ally, the BJP, in the last three elections. Nitish had gotten even with Modi. Laloo got his legitimacy back.
But RJD-JD(U) proved an uneasy alliance. The two partners became increasingly suspicious of each other. Lalu never failed to rub it in he was a bigger partner in the alliance and more than willing to exact his pound of flesh. Gangster Shahabuddin’s release from jail embarrassed Nitish to no end. His government had to seek refuge in the Supreme Court to put the gangster back in jail. And then came a torrent of corruption cases against the Lalu Pariwar. The involvement of deputy chief minister Tejaswi Yadav in railway tender scam got Nitish’s goat. Already teetering on the brinks of a precipice the Mahagatbandhan now had the necessary ingredients to implode.
The Centre worked overnight to facilitate Nitish’s re-entry into the NDA fold. The signals were loud and clear. What Lalu failed to hear Modi went out of the way to tune into Nitish’s Mann ki Baat.
Nitish is back in the NDA fold. But the big question is will he get his mojo back. What development model will Nitish bring to the table. Can Bihar look forward to Nitish delivering his inclusive development model or will that be compromised and in sync with Modi’s brand of ‘vikas.’ Has Nitish come to accept corruption is a bigger evil and that secular politics has severe limitations. How will Nitish react to unstoppable fringe Hindutva brigade's sadistic celebration of cow nationalism on the streets. Or can it be safely deduced that by co-opting Nitish, Modi has managed to squeeze the opposition space even further in the run up to 2019 elections.