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Is Nitish Stretching His Risk-Taking Ability a Bit Too Far?  

History has it that Nitish Kumar can emerge stronger after taking risks, but can he take a chance with Lalu Prasad?

Updated
Opinion
4 min read


Mahagathbandhan is not going to split as both Nitish and Lalu realise the political compulsions of staying together.
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According to conventional wisdom, the ability to take risks diminishes with age. But Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is not known to have followed the conventional path. And his risk-taking ability, in fact, has increased over the years. Is he getting ready to make yet another audacious move?

In the early 1990s, Nitish had decided to part ways with the then seemingly invincible Lalu Prasad Yadav. The decision pushed him to the margins of the politics in Bihar. And it took him more than a decade to make a comeback in the state’s politics.

The second biggest risk that Nitish Kumar undertook in his political career was when he chose to part ways with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) a few months ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

Also Read: In Nitish’s Somersaults Lie Political Ambitions Ahead of 2019

Nitish Emerged Stronger After Taking Risks

With the benefit of hindsight, we can say that Nitish bounced back stronger even after what seemed like career threatening moves at the time. What is the need to disturb the applecart now? The answer partly lies in the kind of verdict the Mahagathbandhan secured in the 2015 assembly elections.

There is no denying that Lalu, Nitish’s ally in Bihar, has been a crowd puller and a vote catcher.

Even in the worst of times, Lalu’s Rashtriya Janata party’s vote share never dropped below the 20 percent mark. Nitish, on the other hand, is known for his administrative acumen and enjoys tremendous goodwill in Bihar.

So when Nitish and Lalu chose to ally with the Congress as a junior partner, people saw in it the coming together of two different skill sets – Lalu as a leader with unwavering commitment to the politics of social justice and Nitish as an able administrator.

The Mahagathbandhan’s victory in the assembly elections was not just a victory of superior arithmetic.

The fusion of two different skill sets appealed to the people. “Lalu ji politics sambhalenge, aur Nitish ji sarkar chalayenge (Lalu will take care of coalition politics and Nitish will run the government),” was the common refrain of a number of people we met across the state in the run-up to the elections.
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Nitish Unhappy with Camp Lalu’s Interference

Now that there has been significant dilution in the division of work – where Nitish does not shy away from charting his own independent political path and Lalu along with his party men meddles in administrative works – all is not well in Bihar’s grand coalition.

Constant challenge from the likes of Shahabuddin (now thankfully in jail) punching holes in the good governance narrative that Nitish has built all these years did not go down well with the Chief Minister and his supporters.

There are reports that Nitish is not very pleased with constant interference from Lalu’s supporters on routine administrative reshuffle. The Lalu camp, on the other hand, did not like the JD(U) supporting the Prime Minister on a number of issues. The friction between the allies, therefore, has been building up for a long time.

The Nitish camp, however, has taken a high moral ground now, demanding the resignation of Deputy Chief Minister Tejaswi Yadav, Lalu’s son and the emerging face of the RJD, following his alleged involvement in corruption cases.

The questions everybody asking now are: Will the Lalu camp oblige? And if the RJD does not budge, is this the beginning of the end of Mahagathbandhan in Bihar?

Also Read: CBI Raids on Lalu & Kin Will Not Stain Alliance With Nitish Kumar

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Lalu & Nitish Likely To Find a Resolution

While reading the minds of wily politicians like Lalu and Nitish is fraught with risks, on the basis of feedback from various quarters, my own sense is that a resolution to the maha crisis in their gathbandhan is on its way.

That seems a distinct possibility for the simple reason that both Lalu and Nitish need each other to stay relevant in politics. Lalu may be down in the wake of spate of corruption cases, his vote catching ability remains undiminished, at least among his supporters.

Nitish, on other hand, has a range of options to choose from – going with the BJP is one of them and Lalu would dread that. But staying with the Mahagathbandhan suits Nitish the most. He has always believed in being his own boss (decision to leave Lalu in the 1990s and parting ways with the BJP in 2013 seem to suggest that) and it is very unlikely that he will choose to play second fiddle, which he will have to, if he decides to join the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance.

The resolution to the crisis lies in how quickly the two leaders decide to revert to the original division of work – Nitish being the administrator and Lalu as the political manager.

That is what was agreed on when they decided to forge an alliance prior to the 2015 elections, people privy to the discussion between the two had told me some time ago. Tejaswi resigns or continues may not be the only point of friction. What matters to Nitish is that his image of “Sushasan Babu (Efficient Administrator)” stays. He won’t like any dilution of that image.

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