In ABC’s “Scandal”, there is a character named Olivia Pope who is technically a lawyer but essentially a fixer – the person you go to when you are in trouble and she helps you out in return for a fat cheque (except when she is wearing the proverbial ‘White Hat’ in which case she will do it pro-bono). Before she takes the case, however, she asks the client to honestly answer the most important question – “What is your endgame? What is your best outcome?”
In politics, especially Indian politics, the goalposts keep changing every day. So it is only natural that a politician ascertains his endgame depending on the situation at the time. True as that may be, if we observe their words and actions carefully, it is possible to come to a conclusion about their ‘best outcome’. In this article, I try and answer the question – What is Nitish Kumar’s endgame?
First, a brief background on Kumar and a little context for this article. Nitish Kumar is the Chief Minister of the Indian state of Bihar. He also heads his political party Janata Dal (United) (hereinafter referred to as JD(U)). His party doesn’t have the numbers in the Bihar Assembly to form the State Government alone, so he is in power because of an alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The state assembly elections in Bihar were held in 2015. Then, Kumar had contested in alliance with Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Rahul Gandhi’s Indian National Congress (INC) against the BJP. However, in 2017, he walked out of that alliance and joined hands with the BJP. Now, the national elections are scheduled for April-May 2019 and there are a lot of statements coming from the JD(U) that signal that Kumar might jump ships once again. So what is Nitish Kumar’s endgame?
Let’s start with the present day scenario and go back in time to look at his statements and actions.
Most recently, Kumar called up Lalu Prasad Yadav. Officially, the purpose of the call was to enquire about Yadav’s health. However, couple this statement with other statements coming from JD(U) spokespersons or leaders like “BJP is free to fight alone on all 40 Lok Sabha seats in Bihar”, “JD(U) is the elder brother in Bihar”, and you get the sense that not everything is right in the coalition. If Nitish Kumar walks out of his alliance with the BJP, it wouldn’t be the first time he does so.
In 2013, when he was Chief Minister, he had walked out of the alliance with the BJP because of his apprehensions about Mr Narendra Modi being declared the Prime Ministerial candidate of the alliance. He fell back on his ‘secular’ credentials and joined hands with RJD and INC to save his Government.
Later, in 2014, when Modi and BJP scored an election victory, Kumar was left with just two Lok Sabha seats. He resigned from the Chief Minister’s post and appointed Jitan Ram Manjhi. But before the 2015 State elections, he returned as Chief Minister and formed a Grand Alliance with RJD and INC on the condition that he would be the Chief Minister of Bihar if the alliance wins. Lalu Prasad who was convicted and hence couldn’t be the Chief Minister gladly agreed. And so the alliance won and Kumar became CM again.
One would have hoped that things would be stable for this new-found bonhomie between the two. However, within 2 years, Kumar was ‘troubled’ by the corruption allegations against Yadav’s son who was his Deputy in the State Government. Kumar fell back on his ‘sushashan babu’ image and broke the alliance in 2017.
In a press conference before the 2014 elections, the then PM Dr Manmohan Singh had said that he believed that Kumar was secular. Kumar thanked Dr Singh for his words. He later withdrew from the BJP alliance. In a similar situation, in 2017, PM Narendra Modi praised Kumar for breaking his alliance with RJD in the name of corruption. Kumar reciprocated by declaring that Modi would again be the PM in 2019. However, things do not seem so hunky dory right now.
The central point to be noted amidst all the break-up and make-up is that whenever Kumar broke an alliance, it didn’t affect his position – he still remained the Chief Minister of Bihar. Maybe that is his end game. His best outcome.