Nitish and the JD(U) Cadre: Exploring Revival of the NDA in Bihar

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On Friday, October 17th, Nitish Kumar was reported to have confessed to his party “foot soldiers” that their legitimate claim to the party was ignored; their opinion was not considered important while taking any major decision. He further exhorted party youngsters to “forget and forgive” and work for the party.

Nitish was not upfront with the JD(U) members to have admitted that there was no democratic structure in his party that begins and ends with him. He doesn’t allow a discussion on the party forum. For example, his unilateral decision to dissolve the alliance with the BJP was not debated on any party forum. Then, it was Nitish’s personal decision to resign as the CM after the JD(U)’s ignominious defeat at the May-June Lok Sabha election of 2014. It may be recalled that it was not obligatory for him to resign because the verdict was strictly for the federal politics and the central government. He should have tabled this proposal to the party functionaries/workers. He didn’t have to take one more undemocratic step of hand-picking an unworthy CM like Jitan Manjhi.

It may be recalled further that during the Lok Sabha election, Nitish’s party colleagues had alleged that the JD(U) was the only party which didn’t have a parliamentary board. All decisions were, therefore, taken by Nitish and his close yes man, Vashishtha Narain Singh. As a result, all the turncoats from the RJD and the BJP were given excessive importance and party tickets to the exclusion of serious party loyalists. So much so that Nitish had to face a unique embarrassment when the candidate fielded by him in Kishanganj suddenly quit the race. He was a defector from the RJD.

In all these instances, it’s amply clear that, for Nitish or his party, the so called cadre doesn’t mean anything. Now, he has been rebuffed again by the voters of Haryana and Maharashtra. In Haryana, Nitish campaigned for a discredited leader Chautala who like Lalu was out of jail on political campaign to have power centred in his family.

Furthermore, during a recently concluded meeting of the so-called party “advisory committee” of the Janata Dal (United), Nitish assured his cadre that his mahagathbandhan (grand alliance) with Lalu’s RJD and the Congress was in the best interest of the party. He urged the party workers to trust him on this matter and help the alliance defeat the 'communal forces' in the next year's Assembly elections.

In a stormy meeting, Nitish, his surrogate party president, and the hand-picked chief of the party’s youth wing faced agitated party workers who questioned the party’s breaking away from the NDA and joining hands with Lalu and others. Secondly, the party workers shouted complaints that the government bureaucracy was ‘out of control’ and no one in the JD (U) was there to ‘tame’ them. The implication must have been on Jitan Manjhi’s effectiveness.

The second point first. The bureaucracy was firmly in the hands of Nitish for the last eight years; the government is said to be under Nitish’s supervision despite his chosen chief minister. If the party workers are complaining, then it’s a no-confidence motion against their leaders.

To the larger point on coalition making and politics, the following questions may be asked:

1. Did Nitish take into confidence any organ of the party, i.e., the parliamentary board or the so-called "party advisory committee"? Did he not put the cart before the horse by deciding upon the mahagathbandhan, and asked his party to follow his dictate? Were there not other party functionaries, like the party president, ready to obey him and keeping others in the dark?

2. Did Nitish bring his policy differences with the BJP to any forum so that people could discuss them publicly? Did he list his grievances against the BJP or its leaders?

This is a tragic trend in the Indian political parties, in general, and the regional parties like Lalu's and Nitish's, in particular. They treat their party faithfuls as a herd of cattle. They could whip them in any direction they wanted.

My greatest objection to the parties of Nitish and Lalu is that they wouldn't impart completely sufficient education to their cadre who happen to be mostly members of the socially and educationally deprived classes. They are misled. This is what Karpoori Thakur did when he de-emphasized English in education and promised to ban all capitation fee institutions. Eventually, he could do neither.

In the current situation, if these leaders had been honest to their cadres, they would have explained to their cadre how the coalition governments are formed and run in democracies around the world.

England is the closest example where Nitish's CM just went to solicit investments. He should have better learnt there how in 2010, a coalition government was formed between the current Prime Minister, David Cameron’s Conservative Party and the Liberal Party. There are, of course, policy differences between the two parties but they agreed to a common minimum program and made it work.

From Scandinavian countries to Canada or Israel, examples are aplenty where parties have parked their differences and formed a coalition government for the better of the country. India and Bihar had several of these experiments before when the Socialists and the Jan Sangh, for instance, came together to give direction to the nation.

I bet if Jitan Manjhi had posed this question at the seminar he attended at the London School of Economics as to whether sticking with the NDA for the remainder of the term or aligning with Lalu was desirable, he would have gotten an answer.

Biharis living abroad, as others, are still suffering from the ignominy their association with the names of Lalu-Rabri and others have brought to them. And everyone looked upon Nitish with admiration for taking Bihar out of that era. As for the verdict of the Bihari voters, the April-May general election was a referendum on Nitish’s political move, but not strictly against his government. He’s again not being fair to his cadre for explaining correctly the meaning of the verdict.

Nitish and his mahagathbandhan are, in my opinion, making yet again the mistake of calculating that the voters of Bihar would vote always on the caste lines and/or caste loyalty. If that were so, the Muslims and the EBCs would have overwhelmingly voted for Nitish in the last parliamentary election. But they did not. In retrospect, Nitish’s alliance with the BJP was not the ideal one. They didn’t constitute a perfect government, but they had gone a long way towards restoring the image of Bihar. They represented the rural and urban interests of Bihar necessary for the composite growth of the state.

In view of the Maharashtra and Haryana results, Nitish can still correct the political course in Bihar by taking the question of alliance formation to the JD(U) party cadre and have it discussed thoroughly. If the BJP and its now junior partner Shiv Sena can renew talks after the election in Maharashtra, why the BJP and the JD(U) can’t discuss the possibility of an alliance in Bihar? Nitish must read the writings on the wall and be directed by his party cadre. The cadre will overwhelmingly go for alliance with Modi’s BJP rather than with Lalu’s RJD.


A native of Darbhanga, Dr. Binoy S. Prasad holds a PhD from the University of Missouri-Columbia, USA. A Fulbright scholar, his teaching and research interest has taken him from Mithila Univ., Delhi Univ., and JNU in India; Johns Hopkins Univ., James Madison Univ., Univ. of Madison-Wisconsin in the USA to Ryerson Univ. and McMaster Univ. in Canada.

He administers a Facebook page: Obama: Overseas Bihari Association for Meaningful Action.

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