“Nitish Kumar is Bihar’s renaissance man.” A decade ago, that reflected the optimism of Bihar. Bihar, which was moving out of years of backwardness back then. Today, it sounds more like a cruel joke that Kumar has played on Bihar in his quest to satiate his hunger for power and his ever-growing ego.
One should have ideally predicted what is unravelling in Bihar now. Everyone can see a weak leader, but the leader himself.
But this weakness is new. Kumar has never been so weak. The story of his downfall started when he broke his first alliance with BJP before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Then whatever was left of his credibility completely took a nosedive in 2017 when again, on a whim, he broke the alliance with RJD and went with the BJP. It was not only a betrayal of the mandate given by the people of Bihar but also a betrayal of his own conscience, which he often cites for his flimsy political decisions.
His political downfall has been also marked by a consistent downfall in his popularity. Many caste groups that voted for “sushasan” (good governance) have found alternatives and have shifted loyalties. One could say that many are getting increasingly disillusioned by the lack of development after his first term as Bihar chief minister. At the same time, a resurgent Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) is gaining support on the ground. Janata Dal United’s alliance partner, BJP, is aggressively eating into the party’s votes. Members of Nitish Kumar’s own party are abdicating what they consider to be a sinking ship. The alarm bells have been ringing for some time now.
What is happening in Bihar is a direct result of Kumar’s failure as a leader and a politician. Bihar has always been communally sensitive around festivals. Whenever Hindu and Muslim festivals have clashed, tension has been palpable on the roads, some manufactured, others spontaneous. But it was mostly a local and temporary problem with things normalising within a few days.
But what started around Ram Navami this year seems to be something different. There was no clash of festivals. In fact, as more news surfaces about how the events unfolded, the tention seems to be something that was orchestrated and planned and most fingers point to some devious right wing groups.
These groups have certainly been empowered by the communal pitch made by many leaders of Bihar BJP and there are signs that some cadre leaders might have been involved in what transpired on the ground. Again, a leader with the experience of Kumar should have seen this coming long back. He should have seen this the day he forged an alliance with the BJP. He should have been well aware of BJP’s ambition in Bihar and must have had a clue on how they would want to achieve it. Maybe in his lust for power, he refused to see what was so evident.
In this era of instant messaging, it takes little time for rumours to turn into riots. Right wing groups have been using social media to spread communal distrust for some time now. In the last two years, many such incidents have taken place in Bihar. In 2016, there was communal tension in Saran after a video of an idol being desecrated was circulated on social media. Similar events took place in 2017. Right now, parts of Aurangabad, Nawada, Kishanganj as well as many other parts of Bihar are tense. Small incidents have flared up turned into riots, fanned by vested interests. It would be foolish not to see a concerted effort to create communal divide in Bihar. Yet, the government has done nothing to prevent the situation.
Thus these riots have not only brought Kumar’s administrative capabilities under the spotlight but have also put his political future in jeopardy. His party is a one-man party centred around him. Anyone who has disagreed with him has been shown the door. There is no agenda, not even some ideological base to drive his political future, except maybe his personal caste base. But in a highly polarised Bihar, even Kurmis, Mahadalits and a section of the OBCs, who have been loyal to him, might vote differently. But I am sure that Kumar already knows that. There are murmurs in the corridors of power these days that he is unhappy with his current allies. Whether there is another break-up on the cards or not, his political future surely looks bleak.
For now, the least he can do for Bihar and Biharis is to contain the poison of communal hatred from spreading centred round him. He can display the administrative capabilities he was once known for and use the state machinery to stop these riots and identify the culprits who orchestrated them.
As Kumar plays his social reformer avatar, perhaps it’s a good time for him to pitch for communal harmony. But Nitish Kumar knows, as does the rest of Bihar, that such an agenda might not please his alliance partner.
Nitish Kumar has created a political and administrative mess for which he will have to pay, sooner than later. Meanwhile, it is the people of Bihar who continue to pay the price of his political decisions.