Befuddling Bedfellow

Nitish Kumar heading a JD (U)-Congress-RJD ‘grand alliance’ and openly admirers demonetization scheme indicates confusion through which Bihar CM is passing through

By Anil Anand

One of the many disadvantages of the ongoing era of coalition politics is that it has almost erased the ideological lines, repeatedly facilitating the coming together of strange bedfellows. Since power is the common denominator and spirit behind cobbling up alliances to wrest or retain power, the coalition politics offers enormous possibilities of political experimentation.

Politics has always been described as the art of the possible and fractured polity has given new dimensions to this art. Even the ideologically committed leaders have no qualms in creating a zero gravity zone for themselves which facilitates a free fall in whatever direction they intend to swing. This art is being used by them both to keep the existing alliance partners in check and at the same time explore possibilities for future.

The thorough bred socialist leader, Bihar chief minister and Janata Dal (United) president Nitish Kumar is currently the flavour of the alliance era political experimentation. He befriended the BJP, which the erstwhile socialists looked upon as crass communal and untouchable, to become chief minister. And who would have thought that a hardcore socialist unhesitatingly holding the Congress hand to stop the Modi-led BJP juggernaught that too with the help of his former socialist comrade in arms and a political foe Lalu Yadav to remain in power at Patna.

As it transpired Nitish (read JD-u), Congress and Lalu (Rashtriya Janata Dal) became best of friends till the political contours began taking new shape on road to all important 2017 Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections. Every move of Nitish is befuddling as he seems to be conducting more than one experiment at a time.

He continues to head an alliance government in Bihar with Congress and RJD in the midst of uneasy relations with Yadav. As a checkmate to his equally politically suave partner, Nitish has been, of late, lauding Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s demonetization scheme. His strategy seems to have succeeded as it has caused consternation in the Yadav camp and at the same time forced the BJP to tone down there attack on Nitish.

He also talked about a grand alliance in Uttar Pradesh only to be later cold shouldered by Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav. Yet, his JD (U) has formed a marginal alliance with Ajit Singh-led Rashtriya Lok Dal to spring yet another surprise. On the face of it, this alliance does not hold much significance but on the broader canvass it can become a key component of whatever grand alliance the Nitish-Ajit combine chose to go along with.

In all this the biggest endeavor of Nitish is to maintain his exclusive image of an honest and no-nonsense politician and at the same time stay relevant in the current political scenario both in Bihar and at the national levels. A contrarian point had been his joining hands with Lalu Yadav despite the latter’s conviction in ‘fodder scam’ and other corruption cases, as an act of political expediency. But he has tried to cover this shortcoming through his administrative skills and political genius reflected in his praise for Modi.

Through this move he has been trying to send a signal to Yadav and his two minister sons that he would not take things lying down and allow his (Nitish’s) image to be sullied. The trigger in this regard was Yadav and his family showing open support for the jailed politician Shahabuddin, a former RJD MP and a close Lalu aide.

Nitish knows well that neither he nor his party JD (U) carry much weight in Uttar Pradesh and that with his present strength or lack of it, it would be difficult to extract much out of Mulayam Singh Yadav if he went unprepared for the ‘grand alliance’. At the same time if he, at all, decides to walk out of alliance with Lalu Yadav, he would naturally be looking towards BJP-led NDA.

A significant aspect of the Nitish-Ajit alliance is that both JD (U) and RLD have remained with the BJP headed National Democratic Alliance and would have no difficulty in entering the NDA. With just a few months to go for Uttar Pradesh elections, it seems improbable that Nitish would hurriedly walk out of current ruling alliance in Bihar. But if JD (U)-RLD combine decided to go the NDA way, it could ultimately lead to realignment of political forces in Bihar as well.

However, Nitish’s flip-flop even on the issue of demonetization is creating more confusion than clearing the picture. Immediately after Modi announced the currency demonetization, he went all out to laud it. As the days passed by and rampant mismanagement generated public anger, Nitish was quick to partially change stance and lambast the centre.

Earlier, in the similar vein, he gave a miss to the silver jubilee celebration function of Samajwadi Party at Lucknow but ensured that his senior JD (U) colleague Sharad Yadav remained present. Through such actions he has been trying to keep all options open and at the same time keeping his present allies as well as the prospective ones on tenterhooks.

Nitish is a wily politician but he would have to take a final call soon on which side of the political divide he would like to be. He has grown in stature after he plotted the BJP’s defeat in Bihar Assembly elections. But the fact remains that his presence outside Bihar is marginal. In this backdrop the more he indulged in political experimentation in UP and elsewhere the greater would the loss that he would accrue.