Nitish Kumar's Secularism Pledge Leaves Him in a Fix as Combative BJP Asserts Ideology
Going back to Lalu’s camp is out of the question for Nitish Kumar and many JD(U) leaders admit as much. But feeling ‘suffocated’ and not doing anything is also not in the Bihar Chief Minister's nature.
File photo of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. (PTI)
Patna: Erstwhile little-known youth BJP leader Arjit Shashwat has become an example of the predicaments Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is facing as seven out of 38 districts in the state are in the grip of communal tension.
Arjit, the son of union minister Ashwini Choubey, is on the run after a local court in Bhagalpur issued a warrant against him. Amid hue and cry by a few BJP leaders, Nitish tried to snub them by openly saying that the law will take its own course.
Much to his agony, Arjit surfaced for an interview in Patna the same day Nitish shared the dais with BJP leaders for ‘Shobha Yatra’ of Lord Rama in Patna. The opposition RJD and Congress grabbed this opportunity with both hands.
“Nitish ji has become spare tyre of BJP. The saffron party will use him when required,” Lalu’s son Tejashwi Yadav said.
Situation was already tense after declaration of bypoll results as videos surfaced in Araria showing youths chanting “anti-national” slogans and beheading of a tea seller in Darbhanga.
Then just a day before Ram Navami, communal clashes were first reported from Bhagalpur. It emerged that Arjit had led a motorcycle rally in a minority-dominated area on the occasion and locals objected the ‘derogatory’ sloganeering and it snowballed into clashes.
Since then Aurangabad, Nalanda, Munger, Arrah and Samastipur have witnessed tense situations. However, Nitish Kumar himself has taken over the task of monitoring the situation and has deployed heavy forces in all the affected districts.
After facing the ire of opposition over Arjit issue, the police on Thursday arrested two prominent BJP leaders for spreading violence in Samastipur. This has not gone down well with the BJP.
The core committee of the BJP was convened on Thursday and the message was clear – no party worker should feel betrayed at the ground level. Deputy CM Sushil Modi, Bihar in-charge Bhupendra Yadav and other senior leaders attended the meeting.
It is learned that Sushil Modi, who is perceived to be more inclined towards Nitish within the party, was also told that there should be no compromise with strengthening the base of the party on the ground.
During the meeting, BJP state vice president Devesh Kumar told News18, “We want to continue this coalition with Nitish. There should be no doubt about that. At the same time BJP cadre will continue to strengthen the party. There will be no compromise with our ideology.”
After the initial flip-flop, BJP leaders are now openly supporting Arjit and terming the police action as ‘victimisation’. After Giriraj Singh, another union minister Ramkripal Yadav said that Arjit was being framed but he would get justice.
The aggressive overtures have left Kumar with limited options. Maintaining equidistance from corruption and communalism is now easier said than done for him.
He already somewhat lost his sheen after he orchestrated a coup of sorts on the night of July 27 last year when he dumped the alliance with RJD-Congress and formed a new government the next morning with the help of BJP.
His return to NDA ensured his continuance with BJP but not on his own terms as was the case till 2013 when he parted ways after heading a successful coalition government for eight years. Ironically, he cited the same divisive politics as the reason behind his decision when Narendra Modi was elected head of the BJP’s campaign committee.
However, he could only manage his alliance with old foe Lalu for 17 months and switched sides citing ‘suffocating’ experiences and series of corruption charges against the Lalu’s family. By leaving Lalu, Nitish also left MY (Muslims-Yadavs), a constituency in which he had successfully made inroads in 2010 elections.
So, going back to Lalu’s camp is out of the question for him and many JD(U) leaders admit as much. But feeling ‘suffocated’ and not doing anything is not in his nature. So, he is trying to create a space within the NDA for himself by trying to engage other alliance partners whom he earlier ignored.
A step in that direction will be sharing the dais with Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) leader Ram Vilas Paswan on April 14, Ambedkar Jayanti. KC Tyagi, considered JD(U)’s face in Delhi, said it would be a historical event.
Coming close to Paswan indeed would be a new experience for him. Both had been on the opposite sides of the fence since 2005 when Nitish tried to form the government in February elections and 12 LJP legislatures defected to support him. However, Lalu’s ‘secular call’ to Sonia prevented Nitish’s bid as President rule was declared after governor Buta Singh sent a ‘favourable’ report.
But Bihar’s political history has been replete with such reversals as Nitish himself showed in 2013. By cozying up with Paswan, he wants to create a pressure group against BJP and a vote bank for his own party – a possible Dalit and Non-Yadav OBC/EBC combination which constitutes nearly 38 percent vote share.
The next step could be to approach Upendra Kushwaha and his Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP). Like Paswan, he too has openly supported Nitish against divisive politics in the wake of recent communal flare-ups.
Kushwaha twice joined JD(U) and left. The last time after leaving JD(U) in 2013, he was forcefully evicted from a government flat by the police. Earlier, Nitish was considered the sole representative of Lav-Kush (Kurmi and Koeri) community but Kushwaha tried to wean away Koeri votes which constitute almost 6 percent vote share. His coming together firmly with Nitish will be helpful.
This group within the NDA can try to split Muslim votes in their favour also. Political observers feel Nitish’s secular plank and Paswan’s long-standing support for poor Pasmanda Muslims can work.
Paswan, with 29 MLAs in tow, had declared in 2005 that he will support any party willing to project a Muslim as the chief minister.
An option of federal front is also doing the round but JD(U) leaders close to Nitish reject such a scenario citing the recent history of failure of any such front. However, they also accept the fact that Nitish has not been able to create a decisive constituency for his party as Naveen Patnaik or Mamata Banerjee did successfully in Odisha and West Bengal.
At present, to keep himself afloat, Nitish clearly needs support from BJP within the NDA but at the same time he has an uphill task of balancing it with his pledge of secularism. This is also clear to him that JD(U) always required a partner to perform better in elections.
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