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Befriending Modi & Westling Lalu: Is This Masterstroke or Mistake?

This is not the first time Nitish Kumar has left one party for another to further his political ambitions.

Updated
Politics
5 min read
Nitish Kumar.
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Nitish Kumar was being seen as a strong opponent to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in national politics, but he surprised them all by abandoning the mahagathbandhan and joining hands with the BJP. Now let’s try to decipher whether this decision will prove to be a masterstroke or a mistake.

If we take a look at Kumar’s past, we find that he has taken such decisions before – they can be deemed masterstrokes or as missed opportunities.

Lalu and Nitish came into politics together but that did not stop the two friends from playing politics with one another. Be it 1994 or 2015, Nitish counted on Lalu to come to power, but wanting to overtake him, Kumar left Yadav on both occasions.

When He First Left Lalu

Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav had been part of the socialist movement since their college days. In 1990, when Lalu became Chief Minister for the first time, Nitish Kumar played an instrumental role in forming the government. Not only that, Nitish was also in the second position among the party cadre.

But in 1994, the tide completely turned. Nitish, becoming upset with the way Lalu handled business, chose to leave his side. In October 1994, Nitish formed the Samta Party along with George Fernandes. It was through the Samta Party that Nitish became close to the BJP.

However, soon after Nitish left him, Lalu started fielding a bevy of corruption charges levied against him. He was implicated in the fodder scam and a faction of the Janata Dal was pressuring him to resign from the Chief Ministerial position. Had Nitish been in the party at the time, he could have perhaps been the Chief Minister, but he had severed ties with Lalu and his party.

As the date of his arrest was decided, Lalu decided to step down from the CM’s post and made his wife Rabri Devi take his place. It’s possible that had Nitish been in the party, Lalu could have made him the CM instead of his wife.

When Lalu and Nitish came together in Bihar.
When Lalu and Nitish came together in Bihar.
(Photo: PTI) 
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In 2013, Split with NDA

In a single stroke, Nitish ended his 17-year alliance with NDA in 2013, when the alliance nominated Narendra Modi as the candidate for the Lok Sabha polls, which Kumar opposed.

After leaving NDA, Nitish had to face a bitter defeat in 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Taking responsibility of the defeat, Nitish tendered his resignation as the Chief Minister and handed over the reigns to his mentor Jitanram Manjhi.

However, this decision brought with it several difficulties for Kumar. After becoming the CM, Manjhi became rebellious. To remove Manjhi from the CM’s post, Nitish had to parade his MLAs in front of the President, only after which was he able to get the CM’s post back.

An upset Manjhi had to forego the CM’s seat as well as his membership of the party.

Nitish has been an important part of NDA since the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. From 2001 to 2004, he was the Railway Minister in the NDA government. Not only that, in 2005, it was with BJP’s support that he was able to push Lalu from the post of the Bihar CM, which he had been occupying for the past 15 years.

It’s possible that had he been with the NDA, he could have held an important position in Modi’s cabinet as well, but he left the alliance just before the Lok Sabha polls. 

Now can this be termed his masterstroke or a master-blunder?

Nitish had opposed Modi’s PM candidate
Nitish had opposed Modi’s PM candidate
(Photo: The Quint)
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Reunion With Lalu Came As a Shock

Even more shocking than deserting NDA was Nitish getting back together with Lalu. For 15 years, Lalu ruled Bihar, of which Nitish spent 10 trying to remove him from his post. It was this decision that made Nitish the victim of harsh criticism.

With Lalu’s family embroiled in corruption charges, Nitish’s closeness to them was the result of his ego, the same one that clashed with Narendra Modi.

After having a zero tolerance policy for corruption and then being associated with Lalu who had corruption charges on him, political pundits predicted that the decision would prove fatal for Nitish.

With a barrage of criticisms coming his way, Nitish teamed up with RJD and Congress to form the mahagathbandhan and started rallying in Bihar against Prime Minister Narendra Modi. After the Bihar Assembly elections, Nitish proved that he was a seasoned political player.

Constitution of the Maha coalition in Bihar elections
Constitution of the Maha coalition in Bihar elections
(Photo: The Quint)
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Separating from the Mahagathbandhan - Mistake or Masterstroke?

With the BJP wave sweeping the nation and the Opposition dwarfed by Modi, Nitish Kumar has tried to salvage his personal politics with his decision. The mahagathbandhan was trying to rally forces against the NDA by projecting Nitish Kumar as the prime ministerial candidate for 2019 Lok Sabha polls, but Kumar chose to sever ties with the alliance.

It might just take two days of the political drama for Bihar to look sympathetically at Lalu but this step could adversely harm Nitish and his party.

In a way, Nitish has hurt his own social engineering. Earlier, apart from the other classes, the Mahadalit, Other Backward Classes (OBC) and marginalised Muslims were important vote banks for him but now, after coming together with BJP, this can create a distance with JDU.

Not only that, it can also dash Kumar’s ambitions of becoming the Prime Minister. The benefit he is getting is that his seat as the Bihar Chief Minister will be safe. Reports are also surfacing of two of his party members becoming ministers with the Centre. But at first glance, it looks like that Nitish lost more than he has won.

(This article was originally published on QuintHindi)

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