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Yeh Jo India Hai Na | Dear Voter, It’s Time to Reject Nitish's 'Paltu-Politics'

The chief minister of Bihar, literally, is the political cat with nine lives.

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Nitish Kumar aka ‘Paltu’ Kumar, has switched political sides so often that it boggles the mind. What is more unsettling is that even though he has repeatedly shown that he subscribes mainly to the politics of opportunity, the people of Bihar have not shown Nitish the door. And so, he has been sworn in as Chief Minister (CM) for the ninth time.

The Janata Dal (United) [JD(U)] supremo, literally, is the political cat with nine lives. Let’s do a quick recap of ‘Paltu’ Kumar’s ‘shifty’ history.

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June 2013, ‘Palti #1’ – Nitish Kumar left the NDA (National Democratic Alliance), protesting the choice of Narendra Modi as the NDA’s prime ministerial candidate. Having been a steady ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for over 15 years, many saw the exit as taking a principled stand, to keep the NDA from pivoting too far towards right-wing politics. He stayed CM, surviving a no-trust vote, with support from the Congress party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal.

July 2017, ‘Palti #2’ - The coalition of the JD(U), the RJD, and the Congress, known as the Mahagathbandhan, had comfortably won the Bihar state assembly elections in 2015. But then, in July 2017, Nitish, accusing the RJD of corruption, exited the alliance upending the people’s mandate, and ‘returned’ to the BJP. He saw which way the political winds were blowing, made his peace with Narendra Modi being the new boss of the NDA, and also with the hard pivot towards strident right-wing politics.

The lynching of innocent Muslims by radical Hindutva activists, the abrogation of Article 370, the Ram Mandir verdict, the rising tide of hate speech – none of these tugged at Nitish’s ‘political principles’.

August 2022, ‘Palti #3’ – Nitish was restless again. Within the NDA, there was no political step-up available to Nitish. He was just one CM among many. Talk of a united opposition to the BJP was gaining momentum. The Congress could no longer claim outright leadership of such an alliance, which for Nitish was an opportunity to become the united opposition’s ‘consensus’ PM candidate. And so, he dumped the BJP yet again, dumped the people’s mandate yet again (the NDA had won the Bihar election in 2020) exited the NDA, and within days was the Chief Minister yet again, but at the helm of a Mahagathbandhan government. By now he was a bonafide ‘Paltu Ram’.

And so, we get to January 2024, ‘Palti #4’ – the INDIA alliance is stuttering. And in any case, there is almost no talk about Nitish as INDIA’s ‘PM candidate’. More importantly, the BJP is resurgent on the back of state election wins in Rajasthan, MP, and Chhattisgarh, and on the back of the Ram Mandir triumph and spectacle. The BJP has also swung Jagan Reddy to its side, along with the JD(S) in Karnataka, and after splitting the Shiv Sena and the NCP, the NDA has recovered lost ground in Maharashtra as well. For the pliable ‘Paltu’ it is a no-brainer. He exits the Mahagathbandhan, once again accusing the RJD of being a corrupt and inept ally. He resigns and is again sworn in as CM of Bihar, all within hours on a Sunday.

Nitish’s supporters may claim that he’s respecting the people’s mandate of the 2020 Bihar election, and returning to the political partner with whom he won that election, but then why did he trash that same mandate in 2022?

And as mentioned above, he readily ignored the people’s mandate even in 2017.  

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India Cuts a Sorry Figure Every Time This Happens

Yeh Jo India Hai Na, here ‘Paltu-Politics’, the politics of opportunism, is the new normal.

Our laws allow political forces and groups to re-align during the term of a government, but the hope was that these calls would be taken over crucial political issues. In theory, India’s anti-defection laws are tough – a party cannot split, nor exit a political alliance unless at least 2/3 of its elected MLAs or MPs are in favour of the decision. But unfortunately, our politicians have managed to abuse and subvert the laws. The lure of money, of ministerial posts, and the assurance of election tickets in the future, has replaced the politics of principles and of debate with the cynical politics of numbers.

The drama of flying MLAs to other states, shoving them into buses, and locking them up in remote luxury hotels and resorts, is now familiar ‘entertainment’ on news channels, with political parties across the spectrum ready to play this game of ‘resort’ politics. What we don’t seem to realise is that India cuts a sorry figure every time this happens. We resemble a ‘banana republic’ at such times, and not a mature democracy.

Unfortunately, an increasing number of state Governors and assembly Speakers also seem pliable and available to bat for one political side against the other. They seem ready to give up their neutral positions, they seem ready to exceed their briefs and misuse their discretionary powers. This has further muddied state-level politics.

Let’s also understand that while Nitish Kumar does epitomise ‘Paltu’ politics, he is not alone here. Surely, the political parties who welcome him back into their arms each time, conveniently forgetting that they had been trading political insults just a while back, are also to be blamed for this ‘paltu’ culture. The BJP, Congress, and the RJD had no love lost for Nitish when he was on the other side, but all was cynically ‘forgotten’ each time they got back into bed together.

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Politics of Opportunity, not Performance

Let’s also ask - has ‘Paltu-Politics’ benefitted Bihar? No. Be it poverty, hunger, education, income level, or health – Bihar lags behind the rest of India in all these key areas. Nitish Kumar has been the state’s Chief Minister for 18 of the last 19 years, Bihar’s longest-serving CM, surely he is answerable. He has had almost 20 years to pull Bihar out of its chronic backwardness but has achieved very little.

Why? Could it be because he has focused on the politics of numbers and opportunity, instead of the politics of performance?  

Which brings us to the voters, to the public – why do we ‘reward’ these Paltu-Kumars and Paltu-Pawars (the reference here is to Ajit Pawar, who notoriously ‘split and switched’ to the BJP twice, in 2019 and in 2023) by voting for them? In doing so, we are ensuring that they never learn. In doing so, we ensure that they don’t bother to deliver on their political promises.

We hear government-aligned media (aka ‘godi’ media) parrot this phrase so much these days - India is the ‘mother of democracy’, it is the ‘loktantra ki janani’ - but surely ‘paltu-politics’, which in Nitish’s most recent case, is clearly being abetted by the BJP itself, is a travesty of democracy.

Yeh Jo India Hai Na… here, just months ahead of the 2024 election, let's replace the politics of opportunity with the politics of merit.

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Topics:  Nitish Kumar   Bihar 

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