2013, Patna, Reportage, Telegraph Calcutta

Nitish Kumar: Hour of ‘honourable option’

Patna, June 15: Three nights ago, N.K. Singh, Janata Dal (United) MP and brainstrust, was hosting a dinner for select eminences in Cambridge and couldn’t resist popping a home question to Amartya Sen: “What, Sir, do you think are the options before Nitish Kumar?”

The Nobel laureate, who also mentors Bihar’s Nalanda University, reflected a moment, then issued a laconic reply: “Well, Nitish Kumar has several options, but only one honourable one.”

The laureate-mentor’s message was relayed to Nitish by Singh this morning, not that Nitish was confused about what he must now do. The chief minister is set to effect the “honourable option” tomorrow following the formality of running the break through party president Sharad Yadav over dinner tonight.

Singh flew back already possessed of the knowledge he was headed to attend the funeral rites of arguably the most durable contemporary political alliance. For it was at the same dinner in Cambridge that Arun Jaitley, architect and patron of the Bihar coalition, bade him a cryptic farewell, only half in soiree jest. “Happy divorce,” he wished Singh. Hearing it come from Jaitley, who had managed many crises in the alliance, Singh was convinced little could save it.

A radically changed temper has begun to sweep the BJP-JD(U) relationship almost overnight. It is no longer propelled by any desire to salvage this crumbled alliance, it is driven by angered posturing of adversaries girding their loins for battle.

Nitish has sent out a strong message down the party ranks: prepare for a no-holds-barred battle to neutralise Narendra Modi’s intervention in Bihar, we shall not tolerate his brand of politics.

The BJP has begun to warn of morphing into belligerent Opposition once “we are free from the chains of government”. The most dire dare came from culture minister Sukhada Pandey, who till the other day, sat submissively on Nitish’s cabinet table. “Hum vipaksh mein iss sarkar ke chhakke chhuda denge, waqt aane deejiye,” Pandey railed, we will tear this government to shreds, let the time come.

But the most substantive, though low-decibel, blow came this morning when deputy chief minister Sushil Modi and road construction minister Nand Kishore Yadav declined a call from the chief minister. Nitish had invited the two seniormost BJP ministers in his government last night, probably intending to discuss the modalities of breaking up. Both said they would turn up at 1 Aney Marg, the chief minister’s residence, for breakfast. Nitish had even ordered his kitchen to cook pakoras, Sushil Modi’s favoured snack.

Shortly after nine in the morning, though, Vijay Chaudhary, irrigation minister and Nitish confidant, got a call from Modi expressing inability to come. The Nitish camp’s sense is that the ministers had “received instructions from the top” not to enter any negotiations with the JD(U) leadership. BJP sources indicated they “saw no point” in any meetings any more. “We have to prepare our own strategy and gameplan now,” said a senior BJP leader.

Nitish is keenly aware of the antipathy drifting off the BJP ranks, and has hardened his posture in response. His sense, sources say, is that Narendra Modi is “completely dominating” the Bihar BJP discourse and the future, therefore, foretells a bitter battle between Bihar’s power bedfellows.

“Nitishji believes there is nothing such as a BJP at the moment, it has become Modi Janata Party and he will have no part in it,” a close aide said. “We have been told to prepare for hard times and a harder struggle, the instructions are to not allow Modi’s politics in Bihar, come what may.”

One Modi has caused fatal hurt to this alliance, another Modi is preparing to retire hurt. Deputy chief minister Sushil Modi will probably be the worst collateral sufferer of the collapse of this coalition. For years now, he has laboured to ease frequent creases in the alliance, even at the expense of being labelled a “Nitish agent” within his own party.

But as personality and ideological contradictions between Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar sharpened, Bihar’s Modi was compelled to choose; he chose the party he had spent all his life in, even having to prove his allegiance by declaring to doubting Thomases in the party that “only my dead body” will go out of the BJP.

Sushil Modi isn’t a happy man today, but as spearhead of the party in the state, he is having to lead the battle for Narendra Modi and against the man he has played deputy to for the last nine years.

And that man — Nitish Kumar — is equally intent now on what he thinks would be a fitting response: Stop Narendra Modi, at least in Bihar. How Nitish will manage to do that is moot, and also open to possibility of bloody battle. But as the laureate-mentor decreed, the chief minister has but one “honourable option”.

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