Patna: Nitish Kumar completed his journey from a trenchant critic of Narendra Modi’s brand of politics to a reliable executor of what is referred to as “Moditva” as he took oath as the Bihar chief minister for the seventh time and his fourth term on Monday.
The Narendra Modi-Amit Shah led-BJP got Nitish to agree to dispense with Sushil Kumar Modi – the last remnant of the A.B Vapajpayee-L.K. Advani’s ‘moderate’ era. Sushil Modi stuck to Nitish as his loyal deputy for about 13 years even at the cost of angering aggressive Hindutva forces that gained primacy under the prime minister and the Union home minister.
At Sushil Modi’s expense, Nitish has got two deputy chief ministers – Tarkishore Prasad and Renu Devi – taking the oath of office and secrecy with him. Both Tarkishore and Renu symbolise the Sangh parivar’s larger agenda of Hindutva in flesh and blood.
While the electoral success of Tarkishore – a fourth-term MLA from Katihar in the minorities-heavy Seemanchal region – is rooted in the politics of polarisation, Renu, the MLA from Bettiah, belongs to the Nonia caste. The Nonia caste is categorised as part of the extremely backward class (EBC) grouping. They aptly fit into the BJP’s new scheme to appropriate EBCs and women from Nitish’s voter base.
Nitish’s Janata Dal (United) [JD(U)] stands reduced to just 43 MLAs, against the BJP’s 74, catapulting the latter into the ‘big brother’ position for the first time in 15 years. Nitish – an ever flexible power politician – has without fuss accepted his “younger brother” status. He has retained his position as the CM but his council of ministers has the stamp of Modi-Shah cleanly embossed on it.
While returning from Bihar’s Raj Bhavan on Sunday after submitting his claim to form the government, Nitish said, “I was not ready to become the chief minister as I wanted the BJP to have its CM but I have accepted the responsibility on the persuasion of the BJP leaders.”
The Wire had reported on November 12 itself that Nitish had created the perception that he was “reluctant to accept the CM’s job” as a part of his well-calculated strategy. Nitish’s statement that he was “not ready to become CM” is testament to this.
Nitish, of late, has begun reemphasising his “three Cs”— an abbreviation of his zero-tolerance for communalism, crime and corruption. “I will stand against the thee Cs as I have been doing all through my rule,” he told reporters before being sworn in as the CM.
A meek acquiescence
But the fact remains that he has meekly acquiesced to the BJP on the three cardinal issues – Article 370, uniform civil code and construction of the Ram temple at Ayodhya – which he got recorded as his party’s “differences” with the BJP, saying his party’s stance on these issues has been clear since 1996.
His JD(U) supported the BJP by abstaining from the voting on the Bill to revoke Jammu and Kashmir’s special status. His party voted in favour of the Narendra Modi government’s triple talaq Bill, which Nitish had said that was not in conformity with his party’s stand on uniform civil code. The Ranjan Gogoi led Supreme Court’s bench ruled for the construction of the Ram temple on the site where the Babri mosque was razed. The controversial ruling provided Nitish with a face-saving device on this particular issue as he had advocated for the issue to be settled in court.
But his party supported the BJP on the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in gross contradiction with his broader political ideology. This led to the axing of his party’s liberal face Pavan Varma and strategist Prashant Kishor. Nitish preferred to dispense with the duo who were critics of the CAA at the altar of his party’s socialist/secular roots and entered into an alliance with the BJP for the Delhi elections in February, when anti-CAA protests had erupted across the country.
Socialist ideologue and the Rashtriya Janata Dal’s national vice president Shivanand Tiwari said, Modi has now got Nitish Kumar – the BJP’s most articulate and reliable partner – to implement Moditva. This is an aggressive brand of Hindutva under the prime minister’s stewardship. “Nitish has surrendered to Modi’s brand of politics by compromising everything he stood for in his about 40 years of political life,” he said.
Some sceptics fear that the BJP armed with a larger number of MLAs, might ‘trouble’ Nitish Kumar. “Why should the BJP trouble Nitish when he is without fuss signing on the dotted line, wherever Modi-Shah want him to? He was a mute spectator to Narendra Modi shouting ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and ridiculing the opponents of the Article 370 for Jammu and Kashmir from the dais. His (Nitish’s) party’s candidates were beneficiaries of the polarising speeches that the prime minister and UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath delivered in Seemanchal and Kosi regions,” said Tiwari.
In fact, Nitish – a master of creating ambiguity – is himself trying to create a perception that he might face some trouble with the BJP in the long run. The reality is not so, for he has given no reason to the BJP to trouble him.
Once a bitter critic
Nitish was the bitterest of Modi’s critics when he took over as Bihar’s CM in 2005 in alliance with the BJP. He treated Modi as an “illicit” element in his conception of the “idea of India” and described him as the “third force” – not supposed to interfere in the affairs of Bihar. He went to the extent of denying him dinner in 2009. He vociferously opposed the BJP’s projection of Modi as the prime ministerial candidate. He dumped the BJP in 2013 on the sole basis that Modi was spearheading the saffron party’s campaign for the 2014 general elections.
He joined the RJD-Congress-JDU Mahagathbandhan (grand alliance) in 2015 and retained his CM’s position by defeating the BJP and vowing never to join hands with the saffron party. But he did return in 2017, with Narendra Modi well-entrench as its leader.
When he took oath as the chief minister on Monday, he looked like the “most obedient” follower of Narendra Modi’s brand of politics. Perhaps none of the BJP’s allies – former and present, including the Akali Dal and Shiv Sena – have surrendered to Narendra Modi in the manner Nitish has.
And against the perception that he might face troubles, he is likely to have a smooth run in his last term as the Bihar CM (if his word is anything to go by). With Nitish’s “silent but well-measured” support, Modi-Shah will carry forward their campaign to try and win West Bengal, Assam and other states going to the polls in the following years.
Nalin Verma is a senior journalist and author of Gopalganj to Raisina: My Political Journey, Lalu Prasad Yadav’s autobiography and The Greatest Folk Tales of Bihar.