Thursday, 24 November, 2022
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Opposing Modi govt on triple talaq and Article 370, Nitish Kumar signals a shift. Again

For a scenario where he is unable to save the alliance, Nitish Kumar is pre-emptively trying to save his political identity.

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All the political talk is about how Home Minister Amit Shah managed to get the support of the opposition parties like the AAP, the BSP and the BJD in effectively scrapping Article 370 for Jammu and Kashmir. But Nitish Kumar, the BJP’s alliance partner and JD(U) president, did not support the Narendra Modi government – either on Kashmir or on triple talaq. On both these bills, JD(U) MPs abstained from voting. This is a far more surprising development because the JD(U) and the BJP are partners in Bihar government and the state will go to polls next year.

So, what could have prompted Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to take this stand? There are three possible explanations:

  1. JD(U) is taking a principled position: The Janata Dal (United) is against the Uniform Civil Code, the abolition of Article 370, and the construction of Ram Temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya. So, its opposition to the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2019, and the Jammu and Kashmir (Reorganisation) Bill, 2019, stems from there. Nitish Kumar has maintained that although the JD(U) has partnered with the BJP, it won’t support the party on these three contentious issues. (The BJP’s opposition over triple talaq is part of its larger plan to move towards bringing a Uniform Civil Code in India.) In doing so, the JD(U) has tried to protect its ‘political identity’ and also insured that it attracts support from a section of Muslims. Nitish Kumar’s stand was no different when his Samata Party had joined hands with the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led BJP in 1996. His decision now to oppose Modi’s BJP follows its stance of keeping its socialist culture intact. This is significant because Nitish Kumar understands the risks involved here – the JD(U) could find itself being labelled as anti-women, pro-Muslim or even anti-national by BJP supporters. But more importantly, the JD(U) has put the Bihar government at risk, because it is dependent on the support of BJP MLAs.

Also read: Nitish Kumar condemns Pragya Thakur’s Godse remark, says BJP must consider expelling her

  1. JD(U) is taking an opportunistic position: Nitish Kumar is the master of pragmatic, opportunistic politics – and his on-off alliance with the BJP sums it up well. After supporting the BJP for 17 years (1996 to 2013), Nitish Kumar broke ties with the party in 2013 soon after it announced Narendra Modi as the party’s prime ministerial candidate for 2014 Lok Sabha election. While commenting on his decision, Nitish Kumar said in an interview then that “the leader of BJP-led NDA should not have rough edges.” This was a surprise for the BJP because Nitish Kumar had decided to stay in the NDA government after the 2002 Gujarat riots. But his decision to part ways in 2013 did not work out well for the JD(U), which won only two of the 93 seats it contested on in the 2014 election. This humiliating defeat prompted Nitish Kumar to forge an alliance with long-time foe Lalu Prasad for the 2015 assembly election in Bihar. The alliance won handsomely and despite his party winning fewer seats, Nitish Kumar became the chief minister. Two years later, he dumped the RJD and was back in the NDA’s fold. He continues to be the CM with the BJP’s support in Bihar. If Nitish Kumar had left NDA in 2013 because of Modi, why did he join hands with the BJP four years later, when Modi’s hold over the party had only increased? Why is he still in the NDA? Nobody can say that Modi’s rough edges have smoothed since.
  1. JD(U) is taking a rational position: The JD(U) is responding to political realities. Most probably, Nitish Kumar has sensed that an emboldened, post-23 May BJP will dump the JD(U) and go it alone in the upcoming Bihar assembly election. It could continue its alliance with smaller parties like the Lok Janshakti Party of Ram Vilas Paswan, but the BJP won’t like to be in an alliance where it has to play a junior role – not after having won the kind of mandate it did in 2019 Lok Sabha election. The BJP has waited for more than three decades to have its own chief minister in Bihar – the only northern state the BJP has failed to conquer. It will look to hit at the last forte of secularism in the next assembly election. Bihar is important for the BJP also because it has produced a counter-narrative to the hegemonic Hindutva ideology by putting caste and social justice at the forefront that seemingly strikes at the heart of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s samajik samarasta. Perhaps Nitish Kumar, the weatherman, has sensed this. Unable to save the alliance, Nitish Kumar is pre-emptively trying to save his political identity.

Also read: Leaderless & desperate, RJD wants to ally with Nitish Kumar again to help reboot party

In that case, it’s prudent for Nitish Kumar to chart his own ways in terms of ideology and political formations and alliances. For this, he needs strong differentiators. Triple talaq bill and the scrapping of Article 370 or reorganisation of Jammu and Kashmir are perhaps those differentiators. It will help the JD(U) in forging an alliance with secular parties while also keeping the possibility of winning Muslim votes alive. At this moment we do not know what the RJD, facing an existential crisis, will do. Will it align with the JD(U) again? Will their alliance be able to stop the juggernaut of the BJP in Bihar?

The answers may appear unclear now but Nitish Kumar’s challenge to Narendra Modi’s BJP at its peak is unmistakable.

The author is a senior journalist. Views are personal.

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  1. JDU रसगुल्ला खाती है मगर रस गार के ! क्यों की jdu सत्ता के लिए रंग बदलने में माहिर !

  2. Nitish ji has his own compulsions. His party is tiny in front of BJP – the BJP of Modi – Shah duo, not of Advani – Atal. BJP’ ambitions are too high and the injury inflicted by Nitish ji to Modi ji on personal front is too huge to be forgotten, given the crude politicians Modi ji – Amit ji are, who did not leave their own BJP people too.
    Now if the BJP can offer a notional representation for JD (U) in Union Cabinet, why should it offer CM’s job to Nitish ji when it is in a position to put of it’s own?
    This is naturally making Nitish ji very uncomfortable with BJP enjoying his restlessness. Nitish ji has to keep his cards open and take calculated risks too.
    He has very few choices if BJP denies him the job – either he makes his own combinations of parties, where taking RJD on board is a tricky situation again or bravely go solo and be prepared to sit in opposition!

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