The Sun Sets on 2017 With Optimism in Bihar

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When the curtain fell on 2016, many of us were still railing against Nitish Kumar for betraying the 2010 electoral verdict in Bihar and his inscrutable political moves.

The voters had given a second term of administration to the National Democratic Alliance of the JD(U) and the BJP led by Nitish Kumar. However, he stunned Bihar (and the nation) in June 2013 -- almost halfway through the term -- by terminating all the BJP ministers from his cabinet, dissolving the NDA in Bihar and winning a trust vote with the support of the Congress party. The primary reason behind his anger was the elevation of Narendra Modi as the prime ministerial candidate by the NDA. It was a powerful display of Nitish’s ego, and, perhaps, his invincibility in Bihar.

Nitish then took a series of dramatic moves. After the JD(U) suffered a massive Lok Sabha election defeat in May 2014, he abdicated his position and installed his protege, Jitan Ram Manjhi, as the Chief Minister. Barely nine months later, he pulled down Jitan Manjhi to assume the Chief Ministership of Bihar (for the fourth time) in February 2015.

Then two months later (April 2015), Nitish again baffled the social-political-administrative circles by becoming a part of the Grand Alliance (the Mahagathbandhan) with Lalu’s RJD and Sonia’s Congress party that would fight the provincial election against the BJP-led coalition in October of the same year.

With allocation of 101 seats each to the RJD and the JD(U) and 41 seats to the Congress, Nitish was successful in defeating the NDA and entering into his clear third term as the Chief Minister.

According to one analysis, a dismal electoral performance by the BJP and its allies secured the NDA 34 percent of the votes polled against the 41.9 percent vote share of the Mahagathbandhan. A gap of nearly 8 percent of the votes translated into a difference of 120 seats between the two contesting sides. The Grand Alliance bloc of votes delivered to them 179 (73.2 %) of the 243 seats.

Despite a spectacular electoral achievement by the Mahagathbandhan that happened because of a combination of many significant factors, almost everyone had a feeling that this coalition wouldn’t last very long. Those who knew the temperament and style of leadership of Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav were convinced that the two would come to an open clash sooner than later.

There were inherent contradictions: Not only the two least deserving sons of Lalu Yadav had to be given the second and the third most important positions in the cabinet, but Lalu Yadav also interfered with every aspect of the day to day administration of Nitish Kumar. Himself out of jail on bail as a fodder scam felon and disqualified from running for any public office, Lalu kept on embarrassing Nitish by delivering oblique messages that he owed his Chief Ministership to Lalu’s popularity and generosity.

As a senior partner in the coalition having greater strength of the MLAs (80 against JD(U)’s 71), Lalu-Rabri didn’t hide their itch to have Nitish replaced by their son. What was most obvious, as admitted by Nitish himself later, the beneficiaries, constituencies and the cadre of Nitish often came into violent conflict with those of Lalu. They were restive and vocal against Nitish’s compromise with Lalu. Many of them said openly they had respectability and a better working relationship with the BJP.

Nitish (Kurmi) and Lalu (Yadav) also represented two very powerful rival castes belonging to the same OBC category claiming larger share in the public resources.

In the first half of 2017, Nitish began to show signs of warming up to the BJP when he supported their presidential candidate, R. N. Kovind against the “Bihar ki Beti” (Jagjivan Ram’s daughter, Meira Kumar). She was sponsored by the Congress party and backed up by the RJD. Nitish also endorsed the demonetization policy launched by Narendra Modi and attended the wedding reception of his finance minister’s daughter.

Nitish and Lalu finally came to a fork in the road when in July (2017) the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Enforcement Directorate, the two arms of the federal government, launched proceedings against Tejashwi Yadav, the Deputy Chief Minister, and other members of his family. Nitish asked his deputy to come out clean on the allegations made against him.

Interestingly, when Nitish’s disfavor to Tejashwi created a crisis, Sonia Gandhi, a member of the Mahagathbandhan, tried to intervene and mediate. According to her compromise formula, Tejashwi would resign and be replaced by Rohini, another daughter of Lalu. Applauding Sonia’s efforts, the JD(U) MP K. C. Tyagi was reported to have remarked, “We need a sane voice, a third party to mediate and calm tempers. Soniaji is the ideal person.” This was a glimpse of the ubiquitous presence of paid, double-faced and unprincipled politicians in India (and in Bihar).

On 26 July 2017, Nitish tendered his resignation to the governor, switched side and embraced offer of support from the BJP to take oath as the Chief Minister of Bihar for the record fifth time. Thus, what Nitish had done in June, 2013 by severing his ties with the BJP, he reversed it four years later. The Mahagathbandhan, ridiculed as Maha-Lathbandhan, stood dissolved.

Now, since the NDA government in Bihar is restored, it’s like a fresh air of breath to those who considered the Nitish-Sushil alliance as a lesser evil than the Nitish-Lalu tie up.

In the new year (2018), hopefully, Nitish and Sushil will get back to the business of governance more seriously -- the second term of Nitish starting 2010 wasn’t as stellar as his first term beginning 2005. As he reigns in the corrupt and the criminal on his own side, he will have to take a closer look at the role of his own finance minister in the Srijan scam. To reaffirm public confidence, Nitish will also have to get the criminal case against himself disposed off. The RJD and Tejashwi Yadav who are in the opposition often talk about this case.

In the meantime, 2018 should also invite everyone to join with Lalu to introspect (as he might be doing within the confines of the jail cell) what, after all, did he accomplish upon amassing so much unaccounted wealth.

Great lessons to learn as we enter the New Year!!


Dr. Binoy Shanker Prasad hails from Darbhanga and currently resides with his family in Dundas, Ontario (Canada). A former UGC teacher fellow (at JNU) in India and Fulbright scholar in the USA, he has taught politics and authored conference papers, articles and chapters on Bihar in previously published books in the United States, India, and Canada.

Dr. Prasad administers a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/OverseasBihari and has sponsored “Aware Citizenship Campaign” at a micro-level in his home-town.

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