Why Nitish Kumar quit as Bihar chief minister, broke alliance with Lalu Yadav
The JDU leader says his ‘conscience pricked him’, given the corruption allegations against RJD chief’s family members.
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In a political earthquake with Patna as its epicenter, Nitish Kumar has tendered his resignation as the Bihar chief minister, after a tumultuous deadlock over corruption allegations against deputy chief minister Tejashwi Yadav, who also happens to be RJD chief Lalu Yadav’s son. Nitish met Bihar’s acting governor Keshari Nath Tripathi a little while back and put in his papers, saying that the environment wasn’t conducive for him to carry on as Bihar CM.
The resignation came barely hours after chinks in the Grand Alliance widened to a gulf, and RJD chief Lalu Yadav clearly ruled out sidelining deputy CM Tejashwi, against whom the Enforcement Directorate and the CBI have lodged criminal cases.
Citing his “pricked conscience”, Nitish Kumar decided to step down, but it must be noted that one of the first prominent politicians to laud his “bold step” has been none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself.
देश के, विशेष रूप से बिहार के उज्जवल भविष्य के लिए राजनीतिक मतभेदों से ऊपर उठकर भ्रष्टाचार के ख़िलाफ़ एक होकर लड़ना,आज देश और समय की माँग है— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) July 26, 2017
Nitish met lawmakers in his party and others in the Mahagathbandhan. He told the media later: "I did not ask for anyone's resignation but I told Tejashwi and Lalu that they must explain the charges publicly. The atmosphere had become such that it was impossible to work. My conscience told me to quit."
Evidently, Nitish’s resignation comes after days of political turmoil under the shadow of corruption charges against several members of Lalu Yadav’s family, particularly deputy chief minister Tejashwi Yadav. But there might a number of other factors, including the new electoral math leading up to 2019 Lok Sabha polls, which might be at the root of Nitish’s big step.
Corruption charges against Yadavs
On July 7, the CBI named RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav and his son, Bihar deputy CM Tejashwi Yadav, in a corruption case involving illegal properties in Patna and Delhi NCR. Even Misa Yadav, Lalu Yadav’s daughter, wasn’t spared as her properties too were searched. Nitish Kumar had then said that he had a “zero tolerance policy” towards corruption. Of course, Nitish is known to be “Mr Clean” and takes allegations of corruption very seriously.
Nitish was also upset by the open flaunting of dynasty politics by the Yadavs, while Lalu wanted to ensure that his proxy in the government matched Nitish’s sway on Bihar’s governance. But Nitish had tried his best to persuade Lalu to relent and make Tejashwi backtrack – the meetings with Congress president Sonia Gandhi and vice president Rahul Gandhi were done keeping that in mind.
But Lalu considered clipping Tejashwi’s wings a moral defeat, and clearly, Congress high command has been in agreement with the RJD chief. The compromise became too suffocating for Nitish, who eventually decided to step down and keep his “image clean”.
Cracks in Mahagathbandhan
To his credit, Nitish Kumar could see how corruption was becoming endemic to politics, but he didn’t have a way of containing it. But his choice between power and principles had become more complicated given the staunchly secular nature of RJD’s politics, when compared with the opposition in BJP, under the regional leadership of Sushil Modi.
But Nitish also knew that the Mahagathbandhan owed its existence strictly to Lalu’s appeal across the rank and file of Bihar’s poor, Yadavs and Muslims. Even his conviction in the fodder scam had failed to eclipse Lalu’s support base. Little wonder then that the RJD had bagged 80 Assembly seats in the 2015 Bihar polls, the highest of all, followed by JDU, which received 71 seats.
However, Nitish’s claustrophobia within the Grand Alliance was becoming increasingly evident as Lalu Yadav’s stronghold on the liaison became greater every day. By resigning as chief minister, Nitish effectively pulled the rug out of the Mhagathbandhan’s feet.
Reviving old ties with BJP?
It must not be forgotten that Nitish Kumar’s JDU has been an old NDA ally and had formed the Bihar government in 2005 and 2010 with the help of BJP. Nitish had openly sided with Prime Minister Narendra Modi during controversial decisions pegged on the PM’s so-called “anti-corruption drive” – be it demonetisation, GST, or the anti black money narrative. Nitish’s enforcement of state-wide prohibition in Bihar was about taking a leaf out of Gujarat model.
However, it’s not just the past but also the future. The BJP national president Amit Shah had not taken the Bihar defeat well and since then has been seeking inroads back into Bihar politics, as well as take the sting out of the Lalu-led secular front and the Mahagathbandhan. Shah has been seeking to exploit the Lalu-Nitish rivalry to the hilt.
Other than that, courting of Nitish Kumar has been going on in the BJP circles, with PM Modi himself complimenting Nitish on the alcohol ban in the state. Increasingly, it was becoming evident that Nitish was inching back to his NDA mainstay BJP while Lalu-led RJD and Congress cemented their secular ties.
Source-based reports by political journalists had indicated that Nitish was miffed at the Congress tilting towards Lalu, even as the BJP-led NDA was seeking to clip Lalu’s wings and thereby defang a possible Third Front by taking Nitish Kumar out of the equation.
It’s obvious that for 2019, withdrawal of a pan-India face like Nitish Kumar’s from a secular, anti-BJP front would mean a heavy blow to the anti-communal forces. Clearly, the road to 2019 is paved with more such orchestrated and apparent “anti-corruption” moves in favour of the Modi-Shah-led BJP.
In Bihar as of now, the electoral math looks as follows.
With Nitish and Lalu parting ways, there are three possible outcomes:
1) Nitish joins hands with the BJP, which has 53 seats in the Bihar Assembly, and forms the new government, swearing in as the chief minister for the fifth time. Together, JDU and BJP would have 124 seats in the Assembly, and when the seats of smaller parties like RLSP (2), LJP (2), and HAM (Secular) are taken into account, it goes up to 129, clearly above the halfway mark of 122.
Things wouldn’t work out so easily for an RJD-Congress combine, which only comes to 80 plus 27, which is only 107. Even if we add the three seats of CPIM-ML, it only adds up to 110, woefully short of the halfway mark.
2) Nitish forms a minority government with outside support from the BJP.
3) The current government is dissolved by the Bihar governor and fresh elections are called for, a scenario that seems to be highly unlikely as of now.