The framers of India’s constitution drew insights and features from constitutions of different countries around the world in order to have a robust yet flexible framework. Though the Indian parliamentary system is largely based on the Westminster system, it occasionally does not mind presidential-style politics, resulting in personality cults. In recent times, this has become more apparent on account of the neo-liberal politics of brand-building etc. But in the melee of that kind of politics, we have also witnessed unprecedented levels of political somersaults as well as an unexplainable extent of U-turns by political leaders switching parties because of which the country’s diverse ideological spectrum is getting blurred.
Lok Janshakti Party president Ram Vilas Paswan was termed a mausam vaigyanik (weather forecaster) by Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad for his unmatched ability to end up on the winning side after each parliamentary election. The latest and most significant entry into this elite club of side-switchers is Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar.
Interestingly, the party president coined the term palturam after Nitish’s repeated switching of sides without any concern for ideological commitment. His latest U-turn was on July 17 which again vindicated how Lalu Prasad had described him and his politics. Everybody knows that Bihar has seen four governments in the last four years because of the innate desire of Nitish to take U-turns and remain in the chair, ignoring all other concerns, including the principles of propriety and probity required in public life.
Nitish became Bihar chief minister for the first time in 2000, that too for only seven days. When he failed to prove a majority on the floor of the House, he announced that he would remain active in Bihar politics and fight Lalu Prasad. But to the utter shock of his supporters, he became a central minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA government just two months after his avowed public commitment to remain engaged in Bihar. When in 1997, Rabri Devi became chief minister of Bihar, Nitish’s patriarchal arrogance made him declare publicly that he was no longer interested in becoming chief minister because, according to him, a “so-called illiterate housewife” had risen to the higher echelons of power as chief minister.
In 2002, Nitish was Union railway minister in the same year when the burning of a bogie of the Sabarmati Express led to barbaric riots in Gujarat, killing some 2,000 people belonging to the minority community and displacing several thousands. Narendra Modi was then chief minister of Gujarat and it was observed, not only by the opposition and the media but his own party, that his administration and government deliberately didn’t do enough to save lives. As a result, the minority community was targeted from all sides and left with no refuge. Had the army not intervened, the death toll could have been higher. At that time, while all sections of society felt a sense of outrage against the chief minister and his conduct (including Prime Minister Vajpayee), Nitish Kumar as railway minister opted to enjoy his comfort zone with Modi. He even went to the extent of terming him a ‘great leader’ who was meant for a bigger role at a time when the entire nation was mourning the assassination of ‘shared tradition’ in Gujarat.
After a decade, Nitish Kumar suddenly discovered his “conscience” about the Gujarat riots and found that Modi was politically untouchable for him. Though reluctantly, he was mastering the craft of ‘becoming secular’. Advised by the people who control his conscience, he famously cancelled a state function at the last moment organised in the honour of the then Gujarat chief minister in a bid to showcase his new avatar. By that time, Modi had already landed in Patna to attend the function and only then got news of the cancellation of the programme. The increasing dominance of Modi in the new BJP was espoused as the reason why Nitish Kumar parted ways with BJP and decided to go it alone. He had thought that the minorities would consider him a messiah because he had denied dinner to Modi, but was shocked to see that his party could manage just two seats. All the misconceptions about his touted popularity and his image of vikas purush (development man) in the state disappeared overnight.
In order to seek political relevance, this time Nitish Kumar approached his one-time mentor as well as declared adversary for years, Lalu Prasad, who in a show of ‘large-heartedness’ agreed to do business with him. And thus was born the mahagathbandhan, or grand alliance (of Congress, RJD and Janata Dal-United) which swept the 2015 assembly elections on the back of the huge mass support that RJD commanded at the grassroots level. But the coalition government soon saw Nitish Kumar’s U-turn instinct rising again. He ditched the alliance and went on to align with same Modi against whom he had sought votes with RJD. The ‘conscience part’ of his persona looked for a ‘cover’ in the alleged corruption charges against the RJD president as well as his son and deputy chief minister, Tejashwi Yadav. This charade of finding a scapegoat in Tejashwi Yadav on the basis of a politically motivated FIR registered against him fell flat recently when the Indian Express reported that the CBI went ahead with its FIR in spite of the caution sounded by their own legal wing. Mr U-turn Kumar chose to conveniently forget that he too faces an as yet unresolved murder charge from 1991.
The story of Nitish Kumar’ U-turns doesn’t end here. When he took charge of the CM’s office in 2005, there were approximately 2,000 liquor shops in Bihar. But the NDA government deliberately loosened liquor norms in the state as it saw an opportunity to generate revenues. There was state-sponsored encouragement for more and more liquor consumption and new licenses were distributed like hot cakes to all and sundry. Suddenly there were licensed liquor shops in every street. Even streets with schools, hospitals, offices, busy markets were not spared.
The opposition led by the RJD and women in the state strongly opposed the liquor policy. The fiction of revenue generation did not allow Nitish Kumar to look at this side of public anger for years when suddenly one night his ‘conscience’ woke up again to tell him that it was time for him to leave politics and become a social reformer. Having lost all electoral planks and understanding, he saw electoral dividends in imposing total prohibition in the state. So the one who was liberally distributing liquor to all, suddenly decided to become a champion against liquor consumption . In this process, he came up with a draconian liquor prohibition law whose victims are largely the downtrodden of the society.
His sand policy has a similar context. After breaking ties with the Grand Alliance, Nitish Kumar scrapped the sand policy made by his then NDA government. He formed a new policy and cancelled old contracts awarded by his own government way back in 2012-2013. But after public outrage and a humiliating defeat in recently held by-elections, Nitish Kumar restored the old sand policy. Did his conscience wake up again?
For somebody who was very recently travelling across India to advocate an RSS-free India, Nitishji’s conscience has risen again to advise him to join the Modi-Amit Shah bandwagon to make an opposition-free India. His U-turn politics had logic and explanation for the same and thus became instrumental in robbing the mandate of the subalterns and putting it in the lap of the ones who follow the ideas of Golwalkar (RSS ideologue), which is antithetical to the politics of social justice.
Forget the murky politics in Bihar initiated by Nitish Kumar since July 2017, the developments in last 10 days are scary for every Bihari. The chief minister’s complete helplessness to act against the miscreants who are disturbing peace and harmony is a textbook example of what happens when you betray a mandate. Leader of the opposition Tejashwi Yadav had been cautioning him and his government on the floor of the House as well as outside, but the chief minister refused to lend his ears regarding threats to social and communal harmony. The reluctant CM must realise that the scale at which BJP ‘inspired’ crowds are going berserk in disturbing peace and harmony and his own studied silence on the issue shall relegate him as one of the weakest chief ministers in independent India who is more concerned about saving his chair than the people. But why should he care? His conscience and the controller of his conscience shall soon tell him to take another U-turn…but in the process the people of Bihar will suffer and the core issues of governance shall take a backseat.
Sanjay Yadav is a political adviser to Tejashwi Yadav, former deputy chief minister of Bihar.