Nitish will break away from Lalu to enjoy absolute power, not because of his aversion to corruption

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) raids at properties of Lalu Prasad Yadav and his family in 12 locations over alleged corruption charges (irregularities in awarding tenders for maintenance of IRCTC hotels in Ranchi and Puri in 2006 when he was the railway minister) have revived speculations of a possible break in Bihar's grand alliance, which includes RJD, JD(U) and Congress. The BJP leaders have given the clarion call for Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar to break the alliance with Lalu.

Many television presenters as well as commentators have already been upbeat that Nitish will soon announce to the world that he is set to dump Lalu and embrace the BJP.

There were similar excited speculations in the media when the Income Tax department raided 22 locations related to Lalu's family in May this year as part of its investigation into almost a dozen Benami property deals. That time too, there were many, including those in the BJP, who had urged Nitish to walk out of the three-party grand alliance and once again embrace the BJP, with which it had cohabited for 17 years before the split in 2013.

Lalu Prasad Yadav and Nitish Kumar. PTI

Lalu Prasad Yadav and Nitish Kumar. PTI

What has been the basis of such speculations? Many believe that Nitish is a rare political leader from the Indian perspective, apart from the possible exception of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who would not brook corruption of any kind just to remain in power. But the question is, if Nitish was genuinely averse to corruption, then why did he sew up the alliance with Lalu for the Assembly election in 2015?

Let us also not forget that the same Nitish had relentlessly inveighed against corruption and jungle raj of Lalu and his family for more than 15 years. But in the aftermath of the 2014 Lok Sabha election in which both the JD(U) and RJD were decimated by the BJP, Nitish had no qualms about joining hands with Lalu to keep the BJP at bay and capture power in Bihar.

If you compare the scenario then and now, between 2015 and 2017, nothing substantial has changed. True, the Income Tax and CBI raids this year have added a new dimension to the corruption charges against Lalu and his family. However, one must accept that these charges are mere allegations by the investigative agencies and have not yet been substantiated by any court of law.

However, before 2015, the indictment of Lalu in the fodder scam cases had gone through a series of court appraisals. He had spent a considerable time in jail, even prior to the apex court finally giving its stamp of approval to the corruption charges. After the Supreme Court verdict, Lalu lost his Lok Sabha seat and he was debarred from contesting elections for the next six years.

If Nitish could embrace such a tainted man in 2015 with a straight face, why would he be troubled by the IT department and the CBI, which have been carrying out raids at the properties of Lalu and his family?

Hopes have arisen in some hearts because Nitish broke ranks with the Congress and the RJD by supporting Ram Nath Kovind, NDA's presidential candidate. Nitish's decision gives them a feeling that he is gradually drifting away from Lalu and preparing the ground for a reunion with the BJP.

What adds strength to such speculation is Nitish's unstinted support to Modi government's twin controversial decisions last year, the surgical strike across the Line of Control and demonetisation.

While the Congress and the RJD were engaged in puncturing the claims made by the Union government on the outcome of the aerial raids on Pakistani targets, Nitish commended the action in no uncertain terms. Striking a discordant note with all Opposition parties, Nitish had also hailed the demonetisation move as a salutary measure to fight corruption.

Nitish has time and again asserted that he has a mind of his own and that he did not believe in herd mentality. As he has said again and again, he does not want to blindly support or oppose a policy or a person because of political associations.

Despite these assertions, he is an astute politician and knows that he has to play his cards carefully to ensure his political interests are not adversely affected by his contrarian decisions.

Let's take the case of his support for Kovind. As the governor of Bihar, Kovind had struck a cordial relationship with the Modi government. Even the BJP leaders in Bihar had expected the governor to red flag some of the draconian provisions of the liquor prohibition ordinance that the Nitish government had recommended. However, the governor refused to place any road block in putting into operation the prohibition regime.

Kovind even ensured that he had no disputes with the Nitish government – as was the case with all previous governors – on the appointment of the vice chancellors of the state universities, which comes under the exclusive purview of the governor in his capacity as the chancellor of the universities. Nitish was grateful to Kovind for not adding to his woes.

But more importantly, Nitish knew that Kovind will surely win the presidential election and the Opposition nominee will lose because of sheer numbers. Nitish must have calculated that a favourable occupant at the Rashtrapati Bhawan was in the short and medium term interest of his party, when political turbulence might propel realignments in Bihar.

However, Nitish's excuse of going against Opposition's candidate Meira Kumar that she was doomed to lose because of lack of numbers, did not carry any conviction. After all, Nitish Kumar had enthusiastically supported the candidature of the BJP nominee Bhairon Singh Shekhawat in the 2007 presidential race when the numbers were heavily stacked against him.

Nitish did so then because he was ensconced in an embrace with the BJP in Bihar and he was not looking for any alternative political platforms then. However, Nitish today is closeted in an uneasy relationship with Lalu and his RJD.

Unlike the BJP which was decidedly a junior partner of the JD(U) in the Bihar government for almost a decade, the RJD is the senior partner in the current alliance with 80 seats to its credit as against 71 of the RJD. No wonder that some RJD leaders flex their muscles from time to time and are not shy of publicly reminding Nitish about it.

Moreover, all BJP leaders of Bihar clearly played second fiddle to Nitish in the 17 years of their association. However, Lalu, though he is banished from political office now because of the circumstances, is not one to kowtow to Nitish as the BJP leadership did. After all, Lalu was Nitish's leader once. Nitish was part of the Janata Dal in Bihar in early 1990s when Lalu emerged as its unquestioned leader. Also, Lalu has more numbers now.

It is evident that Nitish – unlike the days of his cosy association with the BJP for 17 years till the Modi phenomenon wrecked it – has not been able to settle down in power in Bihar in the last 17 months because of the uneasy relationship with RJD.

That is perhaps why Nitish is exploring alternatives. If he breaks with the RJD and re-embraces BJP any time in the future – that is not likely in the immediate run – then it would not be on account of his aversion to corruption, but because he loves to exercise power without the pinpricks of an alliance partner.

Updated Date: Jul 08, 2017 12:06 PM

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