Decoding Bihar election results 2020: Can't overlook that Nitish is on slippery pitch irrespective of mandate
How can Nitish respond to this elections? If he reaffirms ideological commitment, he will have possibly more choices than BJP has today. If he can overcome his inherent weakness of being edgy for the high office in near future, his new journey can be very vital for re-inventing and consolidating the progressive politics in India.
Nitish Kumar is known to be the man of all seasons. He tasted success quite late in politics and never looked back. As a reformer and statesman, he made a mark as the Union Cabinet Minister and the Chief Minister. However, he made a bizarre choice in 2017 and compromised his own stature and ‘Bihar’s brand of politics’ by realigning with the BJP led by Narendra Modi. This was after he moved away from the BJP ahead of the 2015 elections and fought it on a rough pitch with Modi. The same year, he experimented to form a broad front with ideologically compatible political forces to give India, a much elusive alternative.
Unfortunately, he soon lost interest soon in the project that was supposed to make him the face of opposition for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Nitish has shown that he is unable make judicious political decisions. He blundered by letting down his alliance partners and people who helped him get a mandate to establish an alternative stream of politics, respectful to India’s diversity and the Constitutional ethos.
Projected like a consensus process on Nitish Kumar 2.0, the mandate through 2020 Bihar elections is morally making it untenable for him to play a second fiddle and serve as the Chief Minister with a shockingly diminished political stake.
The emergence of BJP as a front-runner in NDA is sufficient to make Nitish Kumar and his Janata Dal (United) deeply insecure and anxious. A big divide between BJP and JD (U) will further grow with the dissent in Bihar BJP (the early signs are already there). Sushil Modi’s closeness with Nitish will complicate the incumbent chief minister's prospects. A section in BJP is already waiting for big organisational changes.
At this stage, it will be helpful if Nitish introspects on the four-front challenges he had throughout the elections - BJP, Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), Mahagathbandhan and the anger of people. BJP played a dubious role by giving LJP a free hand to belittle Nitish Kumar and his party. LJP played by strong sense of impulse and indiscreet backup and ended up in in running unwavering tirade against Nitish rather than trying to win the seats. LJP's performance was not surprising , its plan was imaginary to replace the prominence of JD (U) in NDA and unfortunately harmed own prospects beyond the proportion. A consolidated Mahagathbandhan was like a fort to Nitish, he was visibly challenged and gone to an extent where it played the role of junior to BJP during the poll campaigns. The last but not least, Nitish was well-aware about the growing anger among the people against his government for poor handling of COVID-19 and the migrant exodus that followed after the lockdown.
It was not a simply anti-incumbency but the electorate's disillusionment with someone who was known to be ‘Sushasan Babu’.
Facing a situation like this, Nitish did not have anyone to blame. An engineer by training, Nitish failed at engineering the state's caste equation, finally he turned to be an architect of his decline in the public field. With making just a few pragmatic choices, he could have avoided the end-result that is now in public record. With NDA in clear lead now, BJP can be reassured of having psychological edge to play a bigger role in Bihar’s state politics. The other challengers of Nitish will not be that pleased as they were merely uncomfortable with his policies, action and implementing team – not with the individual brand ‘Nitish Kumar’. It is ironical to dwell on this and know how the ‘transactional politics’ has narrowed down the gap between competitors and adversaries. In the silent prestige battle with BJP, Nitish is a defeated self. Usually people remember the kind of discomfort Nitish had with Modi (2009-2015) and it was amusing in the successive periods when JD (U)-BJP teamed up out of compulsion.
In decoding the broad trends of Bihar elections result, one can’t overlook that Nitish is on a slippery pitch irrespective of how the mandate is finally delivered. He is gone from the limelight for now and his acceptance to continue with the NDA will dampen his late-stage political career. His proclamation about retirement had only a temporary relevance. It is, in fact, wrong to plan a retirement in politics. It happens conditionally, someone like him with mastership on realpolitik should not undermine it.
How can Nitish respond to this elections? If he reaffirms ideological commitment, he will have possibly more choices than BJP has today. If he can overcome his inherent weakness of being edgy for the high office in near future, his new journey can be very vital for re-inventing and consolidating the progressive politics in India. This will be a road less travelled, however, he can do a great service to the nation by prioritising the bigger goal over his personal ambition.
The second possibility is for him to continue with the NDA and become the Chief Minister once again. So far, however, BJP’s top brass has not backed out of their commitment. Finding Nitish in a precarious position, BJP will prefer him as the Chief Minister of Bihar over the contenders from the party. Those who admired Nitish and still hope to see better judgement from his side, will be in shock to see him falling prey to a conveniently made decision that later will be a termed as his another blunder. For a large chunk of the state’s population, Nitish continues to be a leader. He has to pick between these.
The choice is not between the devil and deep sea, it is about getting back the lost elements and aspiring to be far-sighted. At no point of time, Nitish Kumar needed to introspect like now. If he allows himself to be part of BJP’s design in Bihar, there will be a permanent question-mark on the political movements and those who once launched them in ideological guise. He must give himself a chance for course-correction.
The author is a policy professional and columnist. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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