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Nitish, Lalu and the ‘Post Truth’ Politics of Bihar

In the so-called ‘post truth’ politics, facts and ideology do not have a place – it is emotion and rhetoric that counts.

When Nitish Kumar decided to part ways with Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in late 2013 opposing the elevation of Narendra Modi as the prime ministerial candidate of its alliance partner BJP, the reason given for breaking the seventeen year old partnership was the principle of secularism.

He said it would not be possible for him to accept Modi, a controversial Hindu right wing leader, as the PM of the country.

He joined hands with his bitter regional rival, Lalu Prasad Yadav, to stall the march of the BJP in Bihar. In a way, both leaders joined hands for political survival to defeat a common threat. The Indian National Congress also played a role in stitching the alliance.

The resulting massive defeat for the BJP in Bihar dampened the spirit of Modi and his party which was running high after winning a historic mandate at the center in May 2014.

Twenty months down the line and with Modi firmly ensconced in the prime minister’s chair, Nitish has does a somersault and returned to the BJP fold.

MOTIVES AND REASONS

The immediate reason seems to be the corruption cases against Tejaswi Yadav, his deputy in the outgoing cabinet who belongs to the alliance partner, Rashtriya Janata Dal( RJD).

The case dates back to the time when his father Lalu Prasad Yadav was a minister at the centre and some lands were allegedly transferred to his name by a third party. According to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the third party was hand in glove with the senior Yadav.

The RJD and the Yadav clan claim that the case is politically motivated and it has been foisted on them by the Modi regime for political vendetta.

Nitish, who projects the image of a clean politician, wanted his deputy to resign but his alliance partner was not willing to oblige, citing political vendetta. The CM gives this as the main reason to break up the alliance.

NOT SO SUDDEN?

However, if one looks at the political behaviour of Bihar CM in the last six months, one can sense how Nitish has started repositioning himself much before the corruption cases came to haunt his cabinet.

In November last year, when all the opposition parties came heavily on the government on the issue of demonetization, the Bihar CM endorsed Modi’s argument that the step was an attempt to stem corruption.

Similarly, the Janata Dal (United) or JDU leader hardly attacked the center on the issue of lynching of people who consume beef, a major issue that the opposition has been raising.

A clear signal of Nitish’s growing bonhomie came when he backed the BJP’s presidential candidate, Ram Kumar Kovind.

Therefore, it would seem Nitish just followed the script he had in mind and used the corruption case against his deputy as a pretext or provocation.

The pace with which he resigned and immediate embrace of the BJP shows it is not a step taken in haste, but was instead part of a well planned and well thought out strategy.

IMPLICATIONS

At a time when the BJP government is struggling to counter the allegation of growing religious violence and communalism in the country, the home-coming of Nitish means a morale boost to the BJP and an indirect endorsement of Modi’s brand of politics.

Nitish is a strong regional leader and one of the tallest opposition leaders and his re-entry into the NDA (National Democratic Alliance) stable bestows greater legitimacy to the BJP government, which faces allegations of playing majoritarian politics.

Secondly, the break up of the Grand Alliance comes as a relief to the BJP, which aspires to return to power at the centre in 2019.

Had the opposition in the eastern Indian state remained united, it would have been tough for the BJP to garner 30 out of 40 parliamentary seats in the state as it did in 2014.

Bihar and UP together contribute more than 100 seats in the total of 282 that the BJP got last year.

Third, by breaking Nitish away from the Congress led Opposition alliance, the BJP has dealt a major psychological blow to the opposition unity.

But one thing has to be kept in mind Nitish is not that popular in Bihar today as he used to be.

Besides, the BJP no longer has clean slate as it has been in power in Delhi for the last three years. At least a section of the farmers, traders and intelligentsia in the state are now openly opposed to the right wing Hindu party.

That said, the general elections are still two years away.

Nitish will have to deal with a BJP which is under the firm grip of Modi.

How well he will adjust to the style of the new leadership as compared to the old when the party was led by Vajpayee and Advani remains to be seen.

The RJD, despite facing corruption charges, will emerge as the major anti BJP voice in the state.

The Congress, on the face of it, looks like a loser.

However,the party also has all the opposition space in the state for the next two years and the new development gives an opportunity to the party to consolidate its old constituency.

In the post truth world political prediction and certainty is the major casualty.

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