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Nitish Kumar's Silent Support to Modi's Communal Barbs Marks the Decay in JDU's Politics

More than Nitish Kumar, Janata Dal (United) candidates are looking towards Narendra Modi to campaign in their constituencies, eager to capitalise on the PM’s divisive campaigns.
Nitish Kumar with Narendra Modi in Bihar. Photo: X/@BJP4Bihar

Nitish Kumar’s studied silence on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s relentless hate speeches has washed away whatever doubts one had about the Bihar chief minister’s secular credentials.

Previously, even if he himself didn’t respond, he let his party’s spokespersons react to the communal barbs from the Hindutva leaders. The 2024 general elections have witnessed Nitish’s deafening silence on Modi’s belligerent efforts polarise the voters on Hindu-Muslim lines, and his Janata Dal (United) candidates are mirthfully eager to capitalise on the PM’s divisive campaigns.

Illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty

JDU candidates no longer look for Nitish. They are more eager for Modi to campaign in their constituencies. And, the PM in speech after speech paints the Congress, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), and other components of the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) as the “agents” of the ghuspaithias (infiltrators) and Musalmans and himself and his brand of the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) as the only saviour of the Hindus.

The observers largely foresee the end of Nitish’s party’s existence after the election results. But it has already ceased to exist in principle. Nitish has forgotten “bhaichara, aapsi sadbhav, sab dharmon ka aadar (brotherhood, mutual bonhomie and respect for all religions)” that used to be the pet phrases of his speeches. He has meekly acquiesced to Modi’s worldview.

The quality of his speeches has drastically gone down. Once known for peppering his content with the jargon rooted in the socialist philosophy of Ram Manohar Lohia and Jayaprakash Narayan, Nitish has turned personal against Lalu Prasad Yadav and his family. “Itna bachcha paida kar diyaItna koi bachcha paida karta hai (They produced so many children, does one begets so many children)”, he repeats in his election speeches, alluding to Lalu and Rabri Devi’s nine children.

JDU candidates in their private conversations object to Nitish’s personal attack on Lalu’s family. But it’s more because Lalu’s popularity with the backward classes which might affect their prospects against the INDIA candidates. They largely enjoy Modi’s “hateful” barbs against the minorities because they see a “scope” in the latter to win the polls.

For instance, Dulalchand Goswami, a JDU candidate pitted against the Congress’s Tariq Anwar in Katihar described himself as “Modi’s candidate”, apparently to polarise the backward classes under the banner of Hindutva against Tariq in the constituency which has an overwhelming population of the Muslims.

Nitish’s conscience

Bihar minorities are, apparently, more distasteful to Nitish than Modi. “Modi is known for his anti-Muslim personality. The world knows about him. But Nitish has acted like a proverbial ‘aasteen ka saanp (devil in disguise),” remarked a Muslim scholar under the cover of anonymity.

In fact, the Muslims trusted him even when he began his tenure as the Bihar chief minister in 2005 in alliance with the BJP. It was because, Nitish, during his initial years did a lot of work for the Muslims and kept his Gujarat counterpart (Narendra Modi) at bay. Fencing of Muslim graveyards, pension to Bhagalpur riot victims, regularisation of Madrasa teachers’ services and facilitating the opening of a campus of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) at Kishanganj were some of the great works Nitish did for the minorities.

 At the outset, he didn’t tolerate any BJP leader showing his proximity to Modi or Hindutva politics. He didn’t allow Modi to campaign in Bihar in the 2009 Lok Sabha and 2010 assembly elections. He came out with all guns blazing when Varun Gandhi, a BJP candidate from Pilibhit in 2009, broke into an anti-Muslim rhetoric. And eventually, he dumped the BJP ahead of the 2014 elections solely on the grounds of the Hindutva party projecting Modi as its PM candidate.

Of late, he, in his election speeches, reminds the Muslims of several works he did for them. But he forgets that the Muslims rewarded him more than what he did for them. The Muslims were happy with him despite his alliance with the BJP from 2005 to 2010. Ignoring Lalu Prasad Yadav, they overwhelmingly voted for his JDU-BJP alliance in 2010. His alliance won as many as 205 seats against the RJD which was reduced to 24 MLAs in those polls. It was the toughest time for the RJD which got its famed M-Y (Muslim- Yadav) combination splitting and the Muslims siding with Nitish-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) then.

Muslims got disenchanted with him only when he switched over to the BJP when Modi – the raison d’etre for his anathema to the BJP – was the Prime Minister, furthering the Gujarat model of Hindutva politics in Uttar Pradesh and other parts of the Hindi heartland. And his switch from INDIA to the BJP in January this year has fueled fire to the minorities’ disenchantment with him.

Tejashwi Yadav’s response

Nitish Kumar was once known for his suaveness and measured words vis a vis a ‘flamboyant’ Lalu Yadav known for his audacity and cuss phrases against the Hindutva and feudal forces. The CM, now, invariably uses foul words against Lalu and Tejaswhi Yadav. But unlike his father, Tejaswhi prefers discretion over valour.

When the reporters asked Tejaswhi’s reaction to Nitish’s nasty barbs at his parents for “begetting” more children, Tejaswhi said, “I won’t react on what he (Nitish) says. He is my avuncular uncle. I have always respected him and will keep on respecting him.”

Tejashwi is sharper in his barbs at Narendra Modi, exposing the latter’s “lies” by playing the latter’s video-recorded speeches on the microphone at his campaigns. But he ignores Nitish. Moreover, Tejashwi seldom deviates from his focus on jobs, livelihood and reservation for the marginalised sections in the government jobs.

Earlier, Narendra Modi distorted the Congress’s manifesto describing it as a reflection of the Muslim League. He tried to instil fear among the Hindu women that the Congress would snatch their ‘Mangal Sutra’ and property and distribute them among the infiltrators and the Musalmans.

Recently, he distorted Lalu’s statement regarding the reservation to the Muslims. The fact remains that Bihar is one state in which the backward sections among the Muslims were given reservation way back in 1978 by the Karpoori Thakur government. It was not on the basis of religion but on the same of the social educational backwardness as enshrined in the Constitution.

Nitish, in fact, drafted the formula which Karpoori Thakur employed in giving reservations to the marginalised sections including the Muslims.

Lalu continued with what his mentor and predecessor, Karpoori had done with the Muslims in the era of the implementation of the Mandal Commission report in the early 1990s. The RJD president talked about the reservation for the Muslims in the framework of the social educational backwardness which Modi distorted as a part of his design to give religious colour to it.

But Nitish kept deliberate silence on the issue.

If Lalu piloted the social justice movement, Tejashwi has propounded the ‘new socialism’ that involves economic and educational empowerment of the poor in the larger society.

Nalin Verma is a senior journalist, author, media educator, and independent researcher in folklore. 

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