“Any fool can criticise, condemn and complain – and most fools do. But it takes character and self control to be understanding and forgiving”, said Dale Carnegie in How to Win Friends and Influence People. And Nitish Kumar, who seems to be following Carnegie’s advice, is not a fool. He weighs his words, looks before leaping and doesn’t get carried away by rabid anti-Centre emotions. Little wonder then, more often than not, he finds himself to be on the winning side.
To understand the import of his apparently out-of-the-blue support to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s demonetisation scheme better, you need to take a closer look at some of the post-truth pointers that have already surfaced on the political landscape in Bihar: First, the dazzlingly successful ‘mahagathbandhan’ which had beaten the BJP hollow in 2015 no longer looks all that solid. With RJD leaders including Raghuvansh Prasad Singh and Mohammad Shahbuddin spitting fire at JD(U) leadership periodically to belittle Nitish Kumar’s position, cracks have developed. And, God knows why, law and order has suffered.
Second, the perception that demonetisation has been done to root out black money from the system has been gaining ground. In politics, it is the perception that matters – not the truth. And people, more so in India, hate uncomfortable statistics in any case. Like it or not, the poor masses in general hold the view that the exit route of the rich and powerful, who hold all the black part of the cash, has now been sealed. And Narendra Modi is, in their eyes, the He-man who is fighting the demon of black money all alone!
Third, the BJP knows that they will continue to be a fringe party in the cow-belt of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh until and unless a strong section of ‘OBC voters’ join their party. That’s why they have now nominated Nityanand Rai, a Yadav, as president of the Bihar unit of the party. You may recall that in 2010, when Nitish Kumar and the BJP had fought the state assembly election together, the NDA had won four-fifth of the total seats. And Lalu Yadav’s RJD had to remain content with just 22 seats as compared to NDA’s 206.
But wishes are not horses. Neither Nityanand Rai in Bihar nor Keshav Prasad Maurya in UP can ever match the pro OBC charisma of a Mulayam Singh Yadav or, say, a Lalu Prasad. Nor can they divide the ‘backward’ vote-bank and bring them to the saffron camp’s kitty like Kalyan Singh did in 1991 in UP or Nitish Kumar in Bihar in 2010. The success stories of 1991 and 2010 had one commonality: A sizeable section of OBC voters had joined hands with the upper-castes, giving the BJP plus camp its winning edge.
Who knows BJP’s inherent weaknesses more than Nitish Kumar? After all, they had been alliance partners for almost 17 years. BJP’s weakness is Nitish Kumar’s strength. And mahagathbandhan’s fissure does open up a window of opportunity to the BJP. Both the parties seem to have done their Swot analysis. And both are content to live with all this. For the time being, at least.
There is yet another reason for the Bihar chief minister to feel miffed: Mulayam Singh Yadav had walked out of the grand alliance at the eleventh hour in the run up to Bihar elections in 2015. This apart, the families of Lalu Prasad and Mulayam Singh are tied up through a matrimonial alliance. And perhaps, blood is thicker than political compulsions. Didn’t you notice that while Lalu Prasad took part in Samajwadi Party’s silver jubilee celebrations with great fanfare in Lucknow last month, Nitish Kumar skipped the show? Conveniently, without any remorse.
Not that Patna is about to witness a political earthquake too soon in the wake of the Bihar chief minister’s pro-Centre statement on demonetisation and black money, but one thing is certain: Nitish Kumar’s utterances are being taken even more seriously. While BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi rushed to suggest to the state chief minister that it was time he reviewed his relationship with the RJD and the Congress, Lalu Prasad’s RJD and Ajit Singh’s RLD are, after initial hesitancy, beginning to see eye to eye with Nitish Kumar on the issue of black money.
The result is that the overall opposition camp stands divided. You may see all the unpleasant optics on the floor of the Parliament every day. Isn’t it confusing?
But the BJP and Nitish Kumar, who is certainly not a fool, are having the last laugh. For the moment.