Presidential Election 2017: Nitish Kumar's support for Ram Nath Kovind signals divide in Mahagathbandhan

It has long been thought that Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar's decision in the Presidential election will decisively indicate the future of the Mahagathbandhan in Bihar and also of the Congress led efforts to forge an anti-BJP alliance at the Centre.

Now that Nitish's party Janata Dal (United) has decided to support Ram Nath Kovind for the top post, a BJP nominee supported by other National Democratic Alliance (NDA) partners, it is safe to assume that the ruling alliance in Bihar might crumble earlier than expected by some political analysts. The biggest alliance partner, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), is now in a fix because Nitish has already distanced himself from the corruption charges levelled against the RJD leader Lalu Prasad Yadav and his family.

File image of Nitish Kumar. News18

File image of Nitish Kumar. News18

JD(U)'s move has rendered the Opposition meeting scheduled for Thursday meaningless. AIADMK, YSR Congress, Biju Janata Dal (BJD), Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) and Shiv Sena have already pledged support for Kovind.

Senior journalist Surendra Kishore feels that now it's only an ideological compulsion for the Congress, Left and the RJD to not support Kovind. Any chance of putting up a fight is meaningless.

"Nitish was seen as a possible leader of the Opposition before the 2019 general elections. However, he was clever enough to sense that it won't work because Congress won't back anyone other than Rahul Gandhi. So, last month he made it clear that he was never in the race for the post of the prime minister," he said.

Kishore believes that the BJP has stalled any possible Opposition unity by projecting a Dalit leader and in his opinion, Nitish might have been conveyed about Kovind's nomination before the formal announcement.

By deciding to go with the BJP, Nitish has made it clear that he will continue to take decisions without taking care of the RJD or the Congress. His growing bonhomie with Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been the talk of the town.

One crucial moment before his decision was when Nitish did not participate in the Opposition meeting called by Congress president Sonia Gandhi on the pretext of busy schedule but shared the lunch with the prime minister the very next day.

Fissures within the grand coalition became visible just after a year of Nitish Kumar's current term when law and order situation in the state deteriorated and the people started expressing their anger on the streets. In most cases, involvement of RJD supporters came to light and the Opposition attacked Nitish for protecting them. On the other hand, Nitish's party has been projecting him as 'Sushasan Babu' who treated anti-social elements with an iron fist during his first two terms as the chief minister of Bihar. In fact, he had waged a war against the 'Jungle Raj' of Lalu Yadav with the help of the BJP and came to power precisely on these premises, along with social combinations, in the year 2005.

Nitish kept his promises and with focus on developmental works earned the title of "Vikash Purush". But political equations changed in 2013 when the BJP announced Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate. JD(U) chose to play the secular card and parted ways with the BJP. After being drubbed in the 2014 general election, it was Nitish's compulsion to join hands with the old 'enemy' Lalu Yadav and the Congress.

This grand alliance registered a thumping victory. It was considered a smooth going for the alliance in the initial few months but first strains started appearing when the defiant supporters and leaders of the RJD allegedly started resorting to the old ways of threatening officials, recommending lists of transfers and postings and forced contractors to give commissions.

This was against the first two avatars of Nitish Kumar – Sushasan Babu and Vikas Purush. The BJP won many states during these months. Its vote share increased in West Bengal and Kerela. This year, the Modi wave swept Uttar Pradesh and the BJP came to power in the state after two decades. It must have played on Nitish's mind because his alliance partner Lalu Yadav was facing a series of corruption charges.

Recently, the Income Tax Department seized 12 plots belonging to Lalu's son and deputy chief minister Tejaswi Yadav, his three daughters and a son-in-law. The BJP has demanded the removal of Tejaswi as deputy chief minister and questioned Nitish's much publicised zero-tolerance policy against corruption.

Nitish has been showering praise on Modi for every big decision taken by the Centre, beginning from the surgical strike against Pakistan. He publicly lauded the demonetisation move and Bihar was the among the first states who ratified the Goods and Services Tax (GST). Modi reciprocated by praising Nitish for enacting total prohibition law in the state during his speech in Patna at the 350th birth anniversary of Guru Govind Singh.

Seemingly, the BJP and the JD(U)'s approach of not attacking each other had sparked speculations that all was not well within the Mahagathbandhan.


Published Date: Jun 21, 2017 07:21 pm | Updated Date: Jun 21, 2017 07:21 pm


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