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By Exposing the Seedy Reality of Modi’s Politics, Nitish Kumar Has Done INDIA a Favour

Just when the country was being told that a new era of nobility and virtuousness had dawned, the Nitish Kumar caper has jolted us back to the reality that nothing has changed.
File photo of Nitish Kumar and Narendra Modi. Photo: PMO

Rather than bemoan or rebuke Nitish Kumar, the Opposition should welcome the Bihar chief minister’s defection to the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance. His desertion of the INDIA bloc may or may not hurt the coalition’s electoral prospects, but Nitish has inadvertently brought a touch of reality to these hyped up times.

To begin with, it is necessary to keep in mind that Nitish is a product of the “old India”. His political socialisation, his politics and his persona were defined by political habits fashioned during the ‘bad old days’ of George Fernandes, Sharad Yadav, Lalu Prasad Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan. Under Nitish, caste calculations, socialist rhetoric and a self-serving amorality were cocktailed into a working alliance with a rising Hindutva right-wing; ministerial power was the foremost conviction.

This was the classic old India. The two principal practitioners of old politics – Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani – found Nitish to be the sort of political operative with whom they could do business in a mutually beneficial way. In Bihar, an association with Nitish brought the BJP some much-needed respectability; in Delhi, a cabinet berth in the Vajpayee government garnered for Nitish the reputation of being an “administrator”. The Hindutva establishment needed a beach-head in Lalu’s Bihar, and Nitish was there to help them undertake the landing.

Yet it must be said to Nitish’s credit that he never changed his spots. He remains a practitioner par excellence of old politics of old India. He refused to understand the Hindutva crowd’s long term political intentions; he was perfectly at ease in communal company – just like a H.D. Kumaraswamy – as long he could stay in the chief ministerial bungalow. He turned a Nelson’s eye as the Hindutva crowd flooded the moat around his increasingly fragile fort.

And, if this very Nitish is, once again, being welcomed by the strident chief priests of New India/Naya Bharat – that too within days of that mind-numbing saturation coverage of a certain event in Ayodhya – then it simply means that the BJP’s strategists know that the presumed “Ram wave” is going to peter out soon. In fact, these neo-Chanakyas had already betrayed their nervousness when a Bharat Ratna was announced for Karpoori Thakur.

Watch: Has Nitish Kumar Brought into Focus the Sad and Sorry Truth of Indian Politics?

Just when the country was being told that a new era of nobility and virtuousness had dawned, the Nitish Kumar caper has jolted us back to the reality that nothing has changed. If the new age of Ram Rajya has been inaugurated, why was this personification of old politics – of opportunism and expediency – so warmly welcomed by those very “sevaks” who wear righteousness on their saffron sleeves? Which ever way you slice him, Nitish is the very antithesis of each and every tenet of Ram Rajya.

In fact, the Opposition parties should be grateful to Nitish for showing up Prime Minister Narendra Modi in such unfavourable light. Here was the prime minister, observing a diet protocol, temple-hopping for days, going through all those rituals on January 22 at Ayodhya, trying to carve out for himself the persona of a quasi-saint. The country was appropriately impressed. And now, the same sections of Hindu society can see for themselves how an old sinner steeped in political dishonesty and chicanery has been embraced as a valuable asset.

Nitish has not only brought himself down in public esteem, he has pulled Modi down more than a peg too. What Rahul Gandhi’s exertions on his arduous yatras could not achieve, Nitish has accomplished in a few days.

Nitish may be able to help the BJP hold on to its current Lok Sabha tally in Bihar, yet his return to the NDA fold will not enhance the efficacy of the saffron party’s political narrative. After all, voters throughout the country have heard all the bad names that BJP’s leaders, spokespersons and embedded journalists and anchors have heaped on Nitish in recent months. Now it will require extraordinary linguistic and rhetorical contortions for the ruling party to explain and justify the return of such a magnificently abused politico to the noble company of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. Voters will be left deciding for themselves whether the BJP leaders are speaking the truth now when they praise Nitish or whether they were telling lies when they were castigating him for keeping Lalu Prasad Yadav’s company, or vice-versa.

Also read: This Election Season, Who Gets to Take the Credit for Jobs and Reservation in Bihar?

The Opposition parties, especially those in Bihar, should be able to creatively use Nitish’s about-turn to defuse and blunt Modi’s anti-corruption rhetoric. If the RJD and its leadership are to be maligned as “corrupt”, as also practitioners of  “jungle raj”, then how come Nitish remained uncontaminated by the “bad” company he kept till recently?

Above all, the Nitish Kumar caper has forced every voter – except maybe the die-hard bhakts – to questions the pretensions and protestations of all our public leaders. Are we as a society comfortable with deceit and deception as the working mantra of our rulers? And, if these rulers are so untroubled by expediency, cynicism and moral indifference, then should their claims to have ushered in a new politics of selflessness and public service not be taken with more than a handful of salt? No society can achieve real greatness if its ruling clique remains shrouded in Machiavellian calculations and moral poverty. Nitish should be thanked for calling out the hoax that is Naya Bharat. The warm welcome he has received in the ruling ranks shows how the bad old calculations of the bad old calculating politicians remain operational in ‘New India’.

Harish Khare is a former editor-in-chief of The Tribune

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