How Nitish shot himself in the foot

Very few people know that when Congress MP from Jangipur in West Bengal, Abhijit Mukherjee, son of President Pranab Mukherjee, met Lalu Prasad in Ranchi jail October last, the foundation for revival of time-tested alliance between the Congress, the RJD and the LJP was laid.


Officially, it was denied that the meeting had any political connotations, but the Congress mandarins started working on simple arithmetic that if the BJP prime ministerial nominee Narendra Modi has to be stopped in his tracks, it has to be a formidable combination in Bihar where 17 per cent Muslims, 12 per cent Yadavs and Paswan’s Dalit supporters besides the Congress’ core vote-bank could yield the desired result. This alliance in 2004 had together won 29 out of 40 Lok Sabha seats. But when they contested separately in 2009, the RJD won only four and the Congress merely two. The LJP was routed. 

Now, the only problem is Lalu’s conviction in the fodder scam. Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi had publicly spoken against corruption and criminalisation. A middle-of-the-road way-out was suggested that Congress would tie up with the RJD, not with an individual. Today, as Congress is about to seal the deal with its time-tested allies, one person who is licking his wounds is Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. Perhaps he could not learn his lessons from the legendary Chanakya, the mentor of Magadh Emperor Chandragupta, who had written in Arthsashtra that “if you can’t make friends, don’t make enemies.”

Nitish, who often quotes Chanakya, did exactly the opposite. Over-confident following a brute four-fifth majority in the 2010 Assembly elections, Nitish created more enemies than friends – both within his party and outside. He called off his 17-year-old relationship with the BJP on flimsy grounds arguably because of personal ego clash with his Gujarat counterpart Modi. Nitish was accused of ditching the NDA which brought him to its fold in 1996 when his Samata Party was a mere pocket organisation.

But not only with the BJP, he soured his ties with the Congress too, which has been over-generous in doling out one sop after another to Bihar. The bonhomie between the JD (U) and the Congress went for a toss the moment it became evident that the grand old party was inching closer to seal the deal with its old allies - Lalu and Paswan. That leaves Nitish with virtually no friends, except the Left which has just one CPI MLA in Bihar Assembly. The Left too remains apprehensive of his attempts to forge a Federal Front with Left’s bête noire Mamata Banerjee of Trinamool Congress.

Downhill journey

Ploughing a lonely furrow, Nitish won’t ever admit in public that he erred in his calculations. But this is how his downhill journey started. He had fared exceedingly well in 2009 Lok Sabha elections winning 80 per cent (four-fifth) of the seats when the JD (U) romped home in 20 and BJP 12 seats (altogether 32) out of 40 Lok Sabha constituencies here. 

In June 2013, Nitish severed ties with the BJP on flimsy grounds, hoping to stitch a new alliance. Talks were held with the Congress. The poll-pact could not materialise because of JD (U)’s rigid stand of not conceding Congress more than six seats out of 40. At the same time, backroom parleys were going on with regional chieftains like Mamata, BJD’s Naveen Patnaik, SP’s Mulayam Singh Yadav and Deve Gowda’s JD (S), besides, Mamata’s key adversary Prakash Karat, to cobble up some sort of non-BJP, non-Congress front. That too could not fructify.

With all the possible tie-up talks ending up with no result, Nitish is today at a crossroads where it could be difficult for him to retain even half a dozen seats in the ensuing poll. Reason: Once the Congress announces its formal tie-up with RJD-LJP, the three-party alliance will be a formidable combination, which will be in direct contest with the BJP. An isolated Nitish has himself to blame for not being able to read the writing on the wall.“Let the Lok Sabha elections take place, Nitish will know where he stands,” an angry Shivanand Tiwary, outgoing Rajya Sabha MP, who was denied re-nomination, told Deccan Herald. Tiwary, who has been one of the founder members of Samata Party, is particularly peeved over Nitish’s `use-and-throw’ policy. 

Perhaps Congress, it is now said, kept Nitish’s ‘betrayal tactics’ in mind before joining hands with more-than-loyal Lalu.

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