There has always been a strange attraction between the socialists and the Sangh parivaar, and Nitish Kumar is no different.
The sudden resignation of Nitish Kumar from the chief ministership in Bihar and swift joining hands with the BJP to form a coalition government is par for the course for any one who has observed socialist politics in India over the decades. Kumar’s moves perfectly illustrate two prime characteristics of Indian socialists – the inability to remain in a stable relationship for long (especially with other socialists) and a strange attraction towards the Sangh parivaar.
One would think, going purely by their ideological moorings, that the socialists, who lean towards the Left (or ought to) and the BJP, which is right-wing, would be opposed to each other. They may find common ground – such as in their anti-Congressism – but on all other matters, economic and social, they would be at loggerheads. But Indian political history is replete with examples of not just tactical adjustments between the two but full blown love affairs. Socialists have joined BJP-dominated governments with gusto – George Fernandes is an example – and stood by the Sangh through thick and thin.
Nitish has taken this to a new level. He not only was a member of the Vajpayee cabinet, but also ruled Bihar with the BJP as a coalition partner. In 2002, when Gujarat burned and there were voices even within the BJP to hold Narendra Modi to account, Nitish, then the Union rail minister, kept his counsel and stuck on to his post.
How firm was the Nitish-BJP friendship can be gauged by the fact that just three years later, he had moved to Bihar and set up a coalition government that lasted eight years, till he broke it, ostensibly because he was angry about Modi being picked as the NDA candidate for prime minister. What changed? It was the same Modi after all.
Nitish had read the situation well; Modi might get support in the general elections, but the Muslims of Bihar, accounting for a good 17%, might be appalled at the idea of the former chief minister of Gujarat as the prime minister.
In 2015, despite his split with the NDA, Nitish once again rode to victory and became the chief minister of Bihar, this time tying up with the Congress and his bête noire Lalu Prasad Yadav to form a mahagathbandan. Tejashwi Yadav was foisted by an over-fond father as the deputy chief minister, but Nitish pulled along. Then – as if by providence – the CBI raided the Yadavs for amassing wealth and Nitish wanted Tejashwi to resign. Conveniently, the BJP offered outside support if the mahagathbandan government collapsed. Nitish, who had years ago parted ways with Lalu to form his own Samata Party, got the perfect chance. He quit and before anyone could digest the implications, formed a new government with the BJP.
The political machinations are clear, and knowing how Indian politics functions, only the naïve would think that Nitish had not planned this down to the last detail, with the help of the BJP leadership. His support for Ram Nath Kovind for the president’s post was a clear indication that he was warming up to the BJP. His supporters in the media lost no time in spreading stories about how it was all the Congress’s fault. The Congress today is so weakened that it has even lost the art of controlling the messaging – by the time its spokespersons react, the rumour mills and the media stories have already begun doing the rounds.
But equally, Nitish must really think that the people are fooled by his attempt to occupy the high moral ground. Is this really about corruption? Would he have not resigned had Tejashwi quit? Hardly. What is more, does this imply that for him corruption is far more serious an issue than communalism and the rising number of lynchings and hate crimes in India? He must surely know why these are happening and who is responsible for them. His spokesman Pavan Verma, once an astute diplomat, tried to wriggle out of questioning on television about these questions, but no amount of verbal jugglery will hide the fact that Nitish turned out to be a plain, garden variety opportunist.
The original question remains, why are the socialists, especially of a particular ilk, so enamoured by the Sangh. In the 1960s, Ram Manohar Lohia was quite comfortable with the idea of joining hands with the Jan Sangh. But the socialists themselves kept on forming new entities and then splitting, amoeba like, into tiny outfits.
Jayaprakash Narayan – a leading light of the socialist wing of the Congress – was fully supported by the RSS in his agitation against Indira Gandhi and had declared at a Jan Sangh meeting, “If you are fascist, I am a fascist”. His endorsement of the RSS was not liked by several of his supporters and interestingly, it was the socialist Madhu Limaye who brought the matter to a boil and insisted that the Jan Sangh members of the Janata Party quit the RSS, paving the way for the Janata’s split. (Ironically, when the BJP was formed in 1980, its creed was to be Gandhian socialism. Perhaps the genus is the same.)
Since then, the only other socialist from the JP school who has forcefully fought against communalism has been Lalu Yadav – all others have been quite comfortable to cohabit with the BJP/RSS at one time or the other. Even Mulayam Singh Yadav has tacitly supported the BJP at crucial times.
In that sense, Nitish has only done a ghar wapsi – he was always uncomfortable with Lalu on his side, but can now breathe easy with his soul brothers. He is finally home.