2017, Essay, Telegraph Calcutta

I, PROMISCUOUS Power and the Improbable Amorality of Nitish Kumar

My take on Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s turncoat vault back into the lap of the BJP

Nitish Kumar on top of the Taxila ruins in Pakistan in 2012. Photo by Sankarshan Thakur.

His first chosen partner was, believe you me, the CPI(ML). His current chosen partner is a BJP as approximate to the RSS as it can get. Between them, Nitish Kumar has run the entire political spectrum, picking this one, ditching that one, in the pursuit and possession of power – from the provincial rogue called the Bihar People’s Party to national players like the Congress and the Left, each seduced at one time or another to afford him his embrace of the chair.

Nitish’s record of serial dalliance and ditchery springs from good reason, though. For, if power has been the central theme of Nitish’s career, the inability to secure it on his own is its central truth. Astounding as it may sound, the man who is in his third successive term as chief minister and who for a good while fancied himself as prime minister in waiting, has never won his home state singly. At his best he never had enough to propel him anywhere close to office; 17 per cent, never more. He needed booster feeds, he always needed an ally. Not a fanciful token as the CPI(ML) in 1995 – that effort fetched him the princely Assembly tally of seven of 324 seats in pre-Jharkhand Bihar – but a significant, bankable one.

He found not one but two.

Both would be handed good reason, at different junctures, to believe our chosen headline sits aptly on the man. For he has, at different junctures, found reason to kiss, then kick both.

It’s fair to reckon he’s not done with them yet; nor they with him. The guillotine-drop on Lalu Prasad mid-week and the immediate garlanding of Narendra Modi is by no means the last that’s been heard of Nitish Kumar in their annals. Not too far ago in the past, it was Modi under Nitish’s guillotine-drop, and Lalu the one getting the garland. There are scores here that await settlement.

Continue reading “I, PROMISCUOUS Power and the Improbable Amorality of Nitish Kumar”

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2013, Patna, Reportage, Telegraph Calcutta

On the Eve of Split, A Few Telltale Signs in Patna

Why it was clear it was over days before Nitish formally broke from the BJP over Narendra Modi

Patna, June 14: Either the wind did it or some vandal. But intentional or unintended, man’s mischief or nature’s collateral, it’s a sight whose symbolism would grab even the blind.

The first big Narendra Modi hoarding to be emblazoned at the BJP headquarters in Patna in the Nitish Kumar years stands ripped down the middle.

The face that has brought a 17-year-old alliance to the eve of bitter rupture occupies a beatific space on the half that remains intact: Modi’s. As if it couldn’t care the other half was gone, torn and sundered.

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Tomorrow’s another day in politics but on today’s evidence, the JD(U)-BJP coalition looks every bit the image of that hoarding — split down the middle under the looming gaze of Modi.

Just when and how the last rites will be consummated are probably only a matter of logistics and form. Tomorrow? The day after? In a week? Patna is a thick swirl of speculation, but the inevitability of the break is increasingly not part of any uncertainty.

Toot chuka,” a close aide of chief minister Nitish Kumar told The Telegraph this evening, referring to the alliance. “Kaise, kab yehi tay karna baaki hai (It’s gone. All that is left is deciding when and how).”

Nitish himself was not flinching from acknowledgement of an endgame. Returning from wrapping up the last leg of his protracted Sewa Yatra outings this afternoon, he called the situation “grim” and requiring of deliberation.

Only a fortnight back, in the aftermath of his Maharajgunj defeat, he had brushed off suggestions of trouble in the alliance and labelled it strong.

Today, he was prepared to turn sardonic on appeals from BJP leaders to keep the alliance alive in the name of respecting the mandate given to it. “Dua karte hain jaan ki, Dawa jaan lene ki dete hain (they pray for my life, they offer me the potion of death),” he quipped acidly before departing the Patna airport for home.

Nitish has been feverishly lobbied by the BJP top brass to hold his horses on the Modi issue, even been told privately that there is no certainty the Gujarat chief minister will become the party’s prime ministerial nominee. But he is unwilling any more to be cajoled or convinced.

He is believed to have described some of those offering private assurances on behalf of the BJP as “khaali kartoos (spent cartridges)”.

To him, the penny-drop moment was not so much Modi’s naming as campaign committee boss; it was BJP president Rajnath Singh announcing in Goa that the party wanted to see Modi as the “bhaavi neta (future leader)” of the country.

“He has seen the writing on the wall, there will be no compromise on this,” a cabinet minister in Nitish’s inner circle said. He mentioned, rather pointedly, that neither Modi nor anybody close to him had made even the “slightest effort” to appeal to the Bihar chief minister, much less allay his apprehensions.

“The Modi camp is unbothered about the survival of this alliance,” he said, “and those in the BJP that are making worried noises are either doing it for form or they do not matter at all.”

That is a sense echoed by sections of the BJP that want the alliance to somehow survive but have lost hope. “We cannot wish Modi away any longer and Nitish will not tolerate the mention of him,” a BJP leader said this evening, almost wistful of tone. “We have no common ground left, it has all been claimed by Narendra Modi.”

What’s left, though, is for Nitish to make good his own high and unequivocally stated claim: that he will not countenance an arrangement by a man he deems communal and, therefore, unacceptable. Nitish has never publicly named Modi as fitting that description but that is political nicety whose veil has now worn thin.

Nitish’s zero-tolerance protocol on Modi is well catalogued. He has refused to let the Gujarat chief minister campaign in Bihar. He has shied away from sharing public space with him. In private conversations with BJP interlocutors here and in Delhi, he has never minced his words he will have nothing to do with Modi.

It will probably goad him to take his promised plunge.

For all its fervent entreaties in the name of the alliance — leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj became the latest to make a save-our-soul and alliance appeal to Nitish today — the BJP has offered him no credible assurance that Modi will not eventually be named candidate for Prime Minister. Their drift has been quite the opposite: on Modi, there can’t be any compromise.

It will probably also goad him that pro-Modi sections in the Bihar BJP and his own cabinet have taken their gloves off and turned belligerent. Almost as if to taunt Nitish, his animal husbandry minister and Modi acolyte, Giriraj Singh, has decided to embark on an official trip to Gujarat, even though BJP ministers are currently on an undeclared pen-down.

State BJP chief Mangal Pandey has begun to accuse the JD(U) of trying to poach BJP MLAs, likening the Bihar allies to predator and prey. “Several of our legislators have been approached with inducements by JD(U) ministers,” Pandey ranted after a meeting of BJP leaders at the residence of deputy chief minister Sushil Modi, “This is no way for an ally to behave, in fact we have been meeting only to keep our flock together, it is becoming a desperate situation.”

Nitish’s cry is not unlike: what the BJP has done by foregrounding Narendra Modi is no way for an ally to behave. Not after they knew his mind, not if they wished to keep this alliance alive. Perhaps he has come to a pass where he doesn’t care either how closely his rocked ship resembles that tattered hoarding with Modi looming down.

2013, Patna, Reportage, Telegraph Calcutta

BJP chapter is closed: Nitish

Patna, June 20: Chief minister Nitish Kumar has won the first throw of dice in what is probably the biggest gamble of his political career, sailing past the trust vote in the Bihar Assembly on Wednesday afternoon.

But losing the cushion of his coalition with the BJP and having to work with a slender edge in the Assembly isn’t a situation he regrets.

“Not for a moment,” he said in the course of an exclusive interview with The Telegraph shortly after the vote. “Not everything in politics is about jod-tod (machination) or numbers or power. There comes a time when fundamental principles have to be underlined and asserted, and I strongly believe this is such a time. The idea of India as outlined by our Constitution must remain our basic principle and what I have done comes from assertion of that idea.”

Nitish sat, relaxed of mood, in a gazebo on the lawns of his 1 Aney Marg residence, as groups of supporters, mostly from the rural hinterland, filed in to felicitate him on his victory and the installation of what the chief minister calls “a totally secular” JD(U) government in Bihar. Continue reading “BJP chapter is closed: Nitish”

2013, Patna, Reportage, Telegraph Calcutta

Ahead, a tough ride

Patna, June 16: Chief minister Nitish Kumar may well sense a new “secular” halo beginning to glow behind him, but beneath his feet he must also sense the cold discomfort of thin ice. If this is a leap of conviction, it is equally a lunge into uncertainty. Hereon, it is going to be a testing, if not also precarious, ride.

He has forsaken his two-thirds cushion and earned himself a belligerent adversary that will come blazing at him on the shoulders of Narendra Modi. He has a newly invigorated Lalu Prasad waging in from the other end. His own flock will require assuring they can hold out on their own. “We are admittedly in a new and tough situation,” a Nitish aide confessed. “But this is a challenge we had no option but to embrace, there was never any question of submitting to Narendra Modi. We must treat this like an opportunity, a rebirth.”

Nitish’s first challenge is of course to secure the trust motion on June 19, but that will probably be the easiest of the trials that lie ahead; Independents and critical absentees, if not formal support from the Congress, will see Nitish through what is set to be an acrimonious vote on the Assembly floor. Thereafter, it will be an everyday battle on multiple fronts that Nitish alone will have to wage for the dispensation he heads is, willy-nilly, a one-man show. Continue reading “Ahead, a tough ride”

2013, Patna, Reportage, Telegraph Calcutta

N out of NDA

Patna, June 16: The Ides of June have long haunted the JD(U)-BJP coalition in Bihar.

Three years ago, the partners came to the verge of parting mid-June when a Narendra Modi-inspired advertisement in Patna newspapers so enraged Nitish Kumar that he withdrew a dinner invitation to the gathered BJP brass and all but broke the deal.

Today, inspired by the shadow of a more insistent and unrelenting Narendra Modi, the Ides served to sunder.

The Bihar chief minister stoked the simmer with his Gujarat counterpart to a fast-tracked flashpoint, robbing the NDA of its biggest ally, dismissing all 11 BJP ministers in government and seeking a fresh trust vote on June 19.

In the bargain, he earned kudos from the UPA and a minority government that will need fresh cobbling of numbers to remain afloat. Continue reading “N out of NDA”

2013, Patna, Telegraph Calcutta

Ripped down the middle

From The Telegraph, 15 June 2013

1-modi-bihar

Patna, June 14: Either the wind did it or some vandal. But intentional or unintended, man’s mischief or nature’s collateral, it’s a sight whose symbolism would grab even the blind. The first big Narendra Modi hoarding to be emblazoned at the BJP headquarters in Patna in the Nitish Kumar years stands ripped down the middle. The face that has brought a 17-year old alliance to the eve of bitter rupture occupies a beatific space on the half that remains intact: Narendra Modi’s. As if it couldn’t care the other half was gone, torn and sundered. Continue reading “Ripped down the middle”