Bihar Chief Minister and Janata Dal (United) president Nitish Kumar seems to have been caught on the horns of a dilemma on scrapping Article 35A and on the Triple Talaq Bill. The JD-U leader apparently is wavering between his volition and relationship with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has gone aggressive on its agenda during Narendra Modi 2.0 government.
Kumar had to compromise on his avowed principles on the Triple Talaq Bill and Article 370, which were vigorously pursued and passed by both Houses of Parliament. To uphold his secular image, the JD-U worked out an escape route by opposing the bills and walking out of Parliament. It enabled the BJP to manufacture the required support in Rajya Sabha, where it lacks majority.
Nitish Kumar’s adversaries, however, censured him for “indirectly helping” the BJP and, thus, maintaining a made-up secular image. “Is it enough to walk out of Parliament over controversial issues and, at the same time, run the government in Bihar with the help of the BJP? The JD-U leader should clarify his stand on both the issues,” said RJD leader Ramchandra Purvey.
The JD-U is the only BJP ally which opposed the Triple Talaq Bill and diluting Article 370 in both Houses of Parliament. Defending the party’s stand, JD-U secretary general KC Tyagi said the NDA had agreed to keep disputed issues like Triple Talaq, Articles 370 and 35A, Uniform Civil Code and Ram Temple out of the political agenda.
Even during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee regime, then NDA convenor George Fernandes had opposed the move to revoke Article 370, forcing the BJP to retract and shelve it. “We opposed it this time, too, because the BJP brought the bills in Parliament,” Tyagi said.
All eyes are now fixed on Nitish Kumar’s next move as it is high time for him to either continue his secular ideology or drift away in the changed circumstances by maintaining the 19-year alliance with the BJP.
The JD-U seems to have worked out a face-saving formula. “When a law comes into force, it becomes the law of the country and everyone should abide by it in letter and spirit,” said RCP Singh, JD-U leader in the Rajya Sabha.
Nitish Kumar needs a middle path now as Muslims have so far reposed trust in him. It would now be a major challenge for Nitish, who nourishes high political ambitions, to shed his secular image.
It is also driven by the fact that Muslims in Bihar have no strong political party to fall back on as the Rashtriya Janata Dal led by Lalu Prasad Yadav stands fractured after the Lok Sabha poll debacle. The Congress, too, is fragile and faces lack of strong leadership, which can resuscitate the party and face the resurgent BJP in the 2020 assembly polls in Bihar.
Under such circumstances, the JD(U) leadership believes that the Muslims, who constitute nearly 18 per cent of the total population in Bihar, will ultimately vote for them in the 2020 assembly polls. Aiming to bag the Muslim votes, the JD-U leadership has inducted senior RJD leader and former union minister MAA Fatimi, who represented Darbhanga in Lok Sabha.
Recently, chief minister Nitish Kumar had also visited the ancestral house of senior RJD leader Abdul Bari Siddiqui in Darbhanga, fuelling speculation about a political realignment. With Lalu Prasad Yadav in prison, the RJD, under the leadership of his son Tejashwi Prasad Yadav, is in disarray.
The JD-U leadership may have tried to deflect the barbs over Article 370 for the time being, but Nitish will have to take a decision sooner or later as the BJP is all set to pursue other controversial agenda like uniform civil code and construction of Ram Temple in Ayodhya.
The JD-U, like other secular political parties, maintains that the issue of construction of Ram Temple should be settled either by court or mutual understanding among the stakeholders.
If the JD-U continues to remain onboard the NDA, it will have to show its resentment at times for public consumption. But the advantage is too big to ignore the saffron outfit as general public sentiment is in its favour after incapacitation of Article 370 and creation of Ladakh as Union Territory.
Though there are talks in the NDA circle that the BJP is gearing up to go it alone in Bihar in the coming state assembly elections, senior BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi had recently set all speculation at rest by declaring in Bihar assembly that the BJP would contest the assembly polls under the leadership of Nitish Kumar.
However, the only issue that may crop up before the state polls is the number of seats each constituent will contest. In Lok Sabha polls, the BJP and JD-U had contested 17 seats each, leaving six out of 40 parliamentary seats for another ally Lok Janshakti Party (LJP). The BJP may not agree on equal number of seats in 243-member Bihar assembly given its robust mandate in Lok Sabha.
Considering the respective performance in assembly segments in the recent Lok Sabha polls, the BJP established its edge in 97 assembly segments, JD-U in 92 and LJP in 35 assembly seats.
If Nitish Kumar severs ties with the BJP over such controversial issues, he will have to look for mutually beneficial allies. But the choice in Bihar is too little -- between RJD and the Congress – and too poor because both the parties stand vanquished and face existential crises.
(Author is a senior journalist. Views are personal)