Nitish Kumar Is Playing A Game Of Opportunistic Politics, But Who Hasn’t?

Posted by priyank samagra in Politics
July 27, 2017

A few days back, public intellectual Ramachandra Guha described Nitish Kumar as ‘a leader without a party’ and the Congress as ‘a party without a leader’. He even went on to propose his ‘fantasy’ that Sonia Gandhi should invite Nitish Kumar to lead the Congress.

Nitish probably acted on Guha’s suggestion – albeit, in a slightly different manner. Nitish, leader-politician that he is, chose BJP and not the Congress. I’m sure that here historian Guha would also help us to recall that famous quote by Jayaprakash Narayan, the fountainhead of the anti-Indira Gandhi movement which gave birth to both Lalu and Nitish as leaders: “If the RSS is fascist, then I’m a fascist too.”

Nitish remembered this well. He may have thought that when a democrat like JP Narayan had said that for the RSS and then aligned with it, he can also do the same. After all, the narratives on which elections are fought, such as secularism and anti-BJPism in a state like Bihar, happen to be just ‘incidental’ in the era of jumla politics. One can only speculate, how Ramachandra Guha would describe this situation, in cricketing terms? ‘A pitch for the spinners’, perhaps.

Nitish Kumar initially parted ways with the BJP due to Modi, and perhaps, the BJP’s communal politics. He contested the assembly polls on that plank by forming a coalition of anti-BJP and anti-communal forces with Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Rahul Gandhi’s Congress.

Now, after holding the post of chief minister (CM) for 20 months, he has once again parted ways with both Lalu and Rahul Gandhi. This was majorly due to the allegations of corruption against deputy CM Tejashwi Yadav and Lalu Yadav.

Nitish Kumar shares a light-hearted handshake with Narendra Modi
Has the animosity between Modi and Nitish finally gone? (Photo by Arvind Yadav/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

What are Nitish’s personal ambitions? What are his political calculations? Only he knows them best. But, one can reasonably infer from his past statements (about the lack of prime ministerial ambitions, the limited reach of his party and his desire to focus on Bihar) that he has internalised the fact that he cannot play a role at the national level, given the current political realities!

As unity in the opposition camp still seems to be a mirage (apart from the superficial bonhomie at lunch ceremonies), Nitish’s assessment may not be incorrect. Perhaps, he has also internalised that he is a political dwarf when compared to Narendra Modi. Moreover, Nitish’s party, Janata Dal (United) (JDU), is not a very strong organisation, which did not even have a majority voter base (by itself), as was shown by the results of the 2015 Bihar legislative assembly elections.

Maybe the politician in Nitish overpowered the leader in him – and he chose to remain afloat at least for the near future, instead of getting drowned and submerged. However, the question still remains – for how long will he remain afloat?

Undoubtedly, his repeated departures have, to a great degree, exposed the opportunism which he wears on his sleeves. But, who doesn’t? One way to deal with this is to ‘normalise’ it by calling it ‘politics’. Furthermore, in the times of ‘political hobbyist’ citizens, ‘political lobbying’ is bound to appear normal. Political scientist-turned-politician Yogendra Yadav may well have to rethink his propositions on ‘alternative politics’, when  the ‘normal’ in politics is shifting and changing for the worse each day.

The argument that such things have happened in the past may sound legitimate on grounds of political calculations. However, its normative implications (that is, those in the past), are enormous. Also, why blame Nitish Kumar? It is the corrupt people, who were hiding behind the curtain of ‘secularism’, that need to be blamed – not just for this incident, but also for the abuse that the principle of secularism receives, due to their politics and public conduct. The believers would say that they are now being made to pay for their past karmas.

The Gandhi family and Lalu’s family represent ‘repatrimonialization’, which Francis Fukuyama defines as “the capture of ostensibly impersonal state institutions by powerful elites”. How on earth can these political families be believed to save liberal and secular politics? If nothing else, their presence has diluted and weakened the cause of secularism.

Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav celebrate the Grand Alliance's victory in the 2015 Bihar assembly elections
Will there be no end to the Nitish-Lalu saga? (Photo by Arun Sharma/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

If Nitish Kumar is to be blamed for being ‘opportunist’, one should consider these political families to be universities, where the tactics of ‘opportunism’ are taught and practised. Their past conducts are keeping their politics trapped in the methods and lethargy of the past. The only difference between Nitish and these political families is that while Nitish is flexible and ready to bend when needed, the families are caged in the rigidity of appeasement politics!

The ‘normal’ in politics has shifted. The majority is with the BJP. Ram Madhav, a senior leader of the BJP, was recently quoted in the media saying that BJP would form governments in all states. The word which has been used for BJP’s organisation and politics is ‘hegemonic’. Nitish’s decision should also be seen in this context. A leader without a party cannot swing around a political axis which is non-existent or does not have a popular appeal. Nitish has also set the precedence for the formation of future state governments elsewhere, as long as regional forces remain strong.

Therefore, it’s a turning point for opposition politics. In an interview, former Union minister and Congress leader P Chidambaram acknowledged that the Congress is now institutionally weak, and it has to fight with the strong organisational and political machine of the RSS and the BJP. In fact, post 2014, the Congress has often been compared to a ‘sinking ship’. Now, it would seem that a new metaphor is needed, because the ship has already sunk. It’s only a few with life-saving jackets, who are battling to survive in the stormy sea.

The silver lining for opposition parties after Nitish Kumar’s swearing-in as the CM (this time for the NDA), is the indication that they move beyond the Congress’ ‘normal’ – and create a new one, if they wish to remain relevant. Or they all should be ready to meet a fate like the Congress’, sooner rather than later!