September 20, 2020

Bihar: Counting ‘Mr Consistent’ Nitish Kumar’s U-turns and flip-flops

Stung by the defeat of his party Janata Dal (United) at the hands of Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal in the recent Jokihat bypoll, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on June 5 said that he had always worked hard for all communities of Bihar, whether they voted for him or not.

Despite making several U-turns throughout his political career, Nitish proclaimed that there had been “consistency and continuity” in his decisions in the last 12 years as chief minister, irrespective of who his alliance partners were.

Nitish did not stop there but went on to tell the voters of Jokihat: “In Jokihat, I did not even ask for votes… I told people that my work is before you. If you want to vote on work then please vote for Janata Dal (United). Who you voted to, I don’t have anything to do with it… It is your wish… We worked and will keep on working. But tell me, where did we compromise?

Since Nitish has asked “tell me, where did we compromise”, one is morally bound to highlight for his benefit, the many compromises he has made throughout his career.

Let’s start with highlighting how, in 1995-96, Nitish Kumar made a big u-turn to the right, away from erstwhile partner, the ultra-Left Communist Part of India (Liberation), and joined hands with the hardline Hindutva Bharatiya Janata Party.

Similarly, one should point out how he showered praise on then Gujarat CM Narendra Modi after the 2002 riots and even urged him to shift to the Centre. Seven years later, during the campaign for the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, he publicly displayed his reluctance to be photographed hand-in-hand with the same Narendra Modi. A year later on June 12, 2010, he cancelled a dinner with BJP bigwigs who had assembled in Patna for the party’s national executive meeting, due to his discomfort with Narendra Modi. Five months later he came to power in Bihar with a thumping majority in alliance with the same BJP.

Cut to three years later, June 16, 2013, when Mr Consistent snapped ties with the BJP and sacked all its 11 ministers in the state government, when the BJP declared Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 general elections.

Continuing with his flip-flops, he again made a leftward u-turn and contested the Lok Sabha 2014 election in alliance with the Communist Part of India. As his JD(U) won only two seats, Nitish handpicked a Mahadalit JD(U) MLA Jitan Ram Manjhi and made him the Chief Minister. When the latter tried to assert himself, he was repeatedly abused by Nitish’s trusted lieutenants. One fine morning, Manjhi was sent packing.

In between, Nitish did something unimaginable. He joined hands with none else but RJD supremo Lalu Prasad, who had been convicted by a court in September 2013. According to Nitish’s personal definition of compromise, this was no compromise on the issue of corruption. Observers who understand the word better would call it a ‘compromise’ due to his political ‘compulsion’.

On March 28, 2015, the ‘zero tolerance for corruption’ chief minister of Bihar knocked at the gates of Tihar Jail to meet Indian National Lok Dal leader Om Prakash Chautala, convicted of corruption in a teacher recruitment scam in Haryana. At the time, Nitish Kumar was not troubled by such small matters like convictions for corruption, as he wanted to merge all the six parties of the Janata Parivar under his leadership, to emerge as a Prime Ministerial candidate against Narendra Modi. It is another matter that Mulayam Singh Yadav of Samajwadi Party rejected the idea and it was stillborn.

Then he formed the famous Grand Alliance or Mahagathbandhan along with RJD and Congress, and swept the Bihar assembly election in 2015. Though everyone in the Grand Alliance celebrated the more than two-third majority of 178/243 seats, Nitish was a bit dejected, because his JD(U) could win only 71 seats against RJD’s 80, though both contested 101 seats each. In fact that was one of the best indicators as to who can garner more votes––Nitish or Lalu––when the situation is identical for both.

Exactly a year later on November 8, 2016, Nitish Kumar supported Narendra Modi’s demonetisation decision, when everyone else in the Opposition was critical of it. Today, Mr Consistent is finding fault with the same decision of the Modi government.

Then in the mid-summer last year, Nitish’s inner voice suddenly spoke up and reminded him that not only Lalu but his entire family is corrupt. Nitish swiftly made another sharp u-turn rightward, broke the Mahagathbandhan government which had resoundingly won the people’s mandate, and hurriedly joined hands with Narendra Modi! Around the same time, the ₹1,300 crore Srijan Scam which had played out under the nose of Nitish Kumar in Bihar, was about to be unearthed. Thanks to the friendly media, now one hardly hear about the progress the CBI is making, if any, in its investigation into this scam.

Nitish claimed that he had never made any compromise on the issue of communalism too, but allowed BJP Union ministers Ashwini Choubey and Giriraj Singh to indulge in all sorts of communal provocation. In October last, the Patna district administration succumbed to Giriraj Singh’s diktat on the issue of immersion of Durga idols. The administration had then asked the Durga Puja pandals to immerse the idols within a certain time as next day it was Muharram.

Nitish Kumar’s flip-flops in governance

In April 2016 he imposed total prohibition. On June 5, 2018 Mr Consistent talked about amending the strict provisions in the prohibition law, after it was noticed that an overwhelming number of those who have been convicted and jailed are EBCs or Dalits.

On Ambedkar Jayanti this year, Nitish succumbed to pressure from LJP leader Ram Vilas Paswan and laid to rest his Mahadalit policy, announcing that now all the Scheduled Castes would come under this category.

With the help of supportive media Nitish created an image of being a turn-around man. He boasted about an 11% per cent growth rate for his state, which was largely due to the policies of the Manmohan Singh government at the Centre, which launched massive road, railway and other projects in Bihar.

Nitish’s tall claims of building roads and providing electricity would not have been possible without the centrally-sponsored Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana, East-West Corridor, Golden Quadrilateral, and Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana, UPA programs whose names have been changed by the Modi government.

Ironically, when Nitish left NDA in 2013, the same BJP said that these were not his government’s achievements but were part of central schemes. It is now up to the two partners to inform the people of Bihar about which one of them was speaking the truth.

Nobody can deny that Nitish Kumar started off well after being re-elected as Chief Minister in November 2015. But this does not mean that after a couple of years of good work, the people of Bihar should be taken for granted and indulge the whimsical decisions of their chief minister. Their message to Nitish Kumar is plain in the results of Jokihar and before that, Araria. They will not tolerate being taken for granted, their mandate discarded at will, and not for the first time.

Bihar is watching the “consistency and continuity” in the way Nitish Kumar makes compromises and switches sides. They may deliver their biggest lesson yet to him, in 2019.

Courtesy: National Herald India

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