NK has to do a double summersault. At present he is on the back foot in his own state and some analysts have called it a battle for survival for him and in that case, he has no hope in the national arena. They are probably over enamoured by BJP-NaMo. So, NK will have to contain RJD in Bihar, hold his own flock together against the ‘take any, take many’ expansion drive of BJP and having done that he will have to, humbly, come out of the Bihar quagmire, talk to opposition leaders, focus on issues of the people (his Bihar innings will greatly help him in this) and while doing this he will have to feel how winds are blowing and if Indian voters want change in Delhi. If they are not in that mood Nk can still save his already threatened dignity by not making a bid for the top office.
I wonder how NK must feel now. He had limited choice anyway: whether to embrace the BJP cannibal or the RJD devil. He must be asking himself if his politics of the last decade and a half was a futile exercise in power politics as his own grip on Bihar politics has proved slippery with one alliance after another. All political analysts concur on the irksome reality that the present arrangement will weaken further NK’s hold on Bihar as the Lalu dynasty reasserts the Lalu mantra- ‘jab tak rahega samoseme aalu; tab tak rahega Biharme Lalu’! Everything is likely to go in Tejashvi’s (sic Lalu’s) favour: he is young with a more likeable face (an asset for Bihar’s juvenile voters), has shown grace in accepting the subordinate role, can exploit en masse the unemployed lumpen of Bihar. He has announced that he is the ‘lambi race ka ghoda’ and can afford to bide his time. And Lalu had predicted the inevitability of NK’s home coming when he had broad-mindedly declared, ‘Nitisha hamra Bhai hai hai’. He may be languishing in incarceration and ill-health; Lalu is back with his unique political flavor.
Earlier in this column I had suggested that the BJP learnt a lesson in Maharashtra when Shiv Sena parted company in Maharashtra and got the CM’s office. I calculated that the BJP had given way to local aspirations by reinstating NK at the top. I must concede that the BJP has proved me wrong in both states. In Maharashtra BJP split the Sena and preferred a temporary troubled marriage with rash elements in the Sena in the hope of luring the breakaway Sena faction to join the BJP: hence both have equal number of ministers in the Shinde-Fadnavis combine even if BJP has two and half times more MLAs. A Marathi proverb puts this tersely: paadaa pan naandaa (fart but don’t rock the boat). There is reason to believe that instead of BJP, NK learnt his lesson as the cloak and dagger tactics of BJP unfolded in Maharashtra and hastened to join hands with the currently sober element of RJD before the BJP split his already small JDU group. Suave as he has always been in contrast with the brash Lalu, NK eulogized Vajpayee when he iterated that the love (respect) he got from the grand-old coalition champion Vajpayee dried since the Modi-Shah gang pushed Vajpayee into history. Whether, in doing so, NK has invited more trouble and treachery time will tell. One thing is certain: NK knows the RJD better since RJD and JDU are of the same-if not identical-ilk.
By nature, I don’t get nostalgic easily but it is difficult to forget the upheaval of the 1977 elections when the Congress failed to win a single Lok Sabha seat from the 300 northern constituencies. JP was a double headed term- Jay Prakash and Janata Party! Congress humiliation continued in follow up elections to the states and three (then) youth leaders emerged in UP and Bihar states which together sent 25 per cent MPs to the LS- two Yadavs-Mulayam Singh and Lalu Prasad and one Kurmi -Nitish Kumar. All three were products of the anti-congressism of Lohiya and mass appeal of JP. The three were to dominate politics of UP and Bihar till date. The two Yadavs have firmly established their families in respective states and NK is the lone fighter. All three had unique political skills (since both Mulayam Singh and NK were well educated and Lalu was an astute mobiliser with calculated buffoonery as a political tool) and kept Congress at bay since late 1980’s because the assassination of Indira had obliterated anti-Congressism for a few years.
The déjà vu lies in the political irony that now NK, Akhilesh and Tejashwi are following the same strategy- this time it is anti-BJPism as the Congress is digging its own grave.
Political analysis of NK’s timely bold step is based on three points. Firstly, It is universally acknowledged that NK has scored one on NaMo-Shah mastermind and reduced the lack-lustre Bihar BJP leaders(?) to near orphan hood for none of them can claim power in Delhi as compensation. Like it happened in Karnataka when the brash Yediyurappa tried to form a government and offered all non-BJP parties a cause to unite and support Kumaraswamy, this time, NaMo-Shah have been reduced to smug novices against the cunning of NK. Secondly, as stated above, all analysts agree that NK’s present initiative is going to be a better deal for RJD.
Third point of analysis is to see NK’s divorce from BJP-NDA in the wake of the next LS polls-scheduled in 2024. After the pathetic show of the joint opposition in the elections of the President and vice-President the opposition is left without hope and relevance. It is foolish to talk of a non-BJP-NDA government at centre in ’24: as Rahul Gandhi, in a rare realistic mood has warned the Congress cadres that they will have to work devotedly for 15-20 years if they wish to see achche din! Even to contain the NDA by cutting it to its size looks beyond the opposition as it stands today-leaderless and rudderless. All non-BJP parties need a new face and politically imaginative agenda to take on the NDA-BJP juggernaut.
Could NK be that new face and could he, with his experience, suavity and stamina amalgamate the now in a shambles opposition into a formidable challenge to BJP-NDA (sic NaMo-Yogi)? Will the opposition pardon his ‘sleeping with the enemy’ till very recently? Will his future national rivals- Pawar, Mamata, Rahul et al – all of a sudden develop broad minds and big hearts? Yeshwant Sinha’s emergence as opposition candidate for President is a favourable pointer-he too had slept with the same enemy!
NK has to do a double summersault. At present he is on the back foot in his own state and some analysts have called it a battle for survival for him and in that case, he has no hope in the national arena. They are probably over enamoured by BJP-NaMo. So, NK will have to contain RJD in Bihar, hold his own flock together against the ‘take any, take many’ expansion drive of BJP and having done that he will have to, humbly, come out of the Bihar quagmire, talk to opposition leaders, focus on issues of the people (his Bihar innings will greatly help him in this) and while doing this he will have to feel how winds are blowing and if Indian voters want change in Delhi. If they are not in that mood NK can still save his already threatened dignity by not making a bid for the top office.
I do not believe that NK will be pushed to the back stage in Bihar immediately. Tejashwi, being Lalu’s son, must have inherited a sense of timing if he wants to pull the carpet from under NK’s feet. In any case Bihar is due for assembly polls after the next LS elections. So, NK can appease his deputy by spending more time out of Bihar.
How does NK compare with NaMo? Both are of the same age but NK has double experience in politics. While nobody knows what NaMo did or did not do during the turmoil of 1970 to 1990, NK was very much in the thick of things. NK can rightly claim JP’s heritage while NaMo must have seen JP from miles away: if at all. NK is an engineering graduate while NaMo’s sole/soul qualification is total dedication to RSS. NK has participated in all progressive movements since 1970 while NaMo landed from above first in Gujrat and rose to national level more with the help of his detractors than followers. Apart from age they have another similarity-their families have no political aspirations. Even on this NK stands above NaMo because he has a family-NaMo has a wife but no family. So should NK emerge as NaMo’s alternative in ’24 his case looks better on paper.
But Indian voters vote differently in elections to LS and state assemblies. State elections happen mainly on caste calculations and therefore Bihar observers are busy formulating various possible caste alliances for the next assembly polls there and how the four major parties-BJP, RJD, JDU and Congress will fare, I would rather discuss the national implications of NK’s decision.
National elections in India are won and lost depending on the mood of voters. Frustration after the Chinese betrayal created an anti-Congress mood even when Nehru was there. Shastri repaired it by ‘Jay Jawan Jay Kisan’. When Congress split in the late seventies Indira reclaimed the lost ground by bank nationalization, cutting privy purses of erstwhile princes. She further consolidated her position and generated the mood of ‘Indira is India’ as she first won the first mid-term LS elections on ‘Garibi Hatao’ banner and then emerged as a world politician by bold recognition of BanglaDesh.
JP turned the tide and tables on Indira and Congress by launching a crusade against corruption in high office and offered ‘Sampurna Kranti’ to the new generation voters. Excesses of the infamous Emergency created a no-Congress feeling in the north in 1977. Nausea of inner contradictions in Janata Party brought Congress-Indira back with unprecedented majority in 1980. National agony of Indira’s assassination handed over the power to Rajeev and Congress with near 80 percent LS seats.
The next twenty years, in the absence of a national leader and national mood, saw coalition after coalition surviving at both national and state levels. These coalitions, such as they were, lost most of their vital energy, such as it was in the business of holding themselves together till emergence of NaMo first in Gujrat and then at national level. ‘Ab ki bar NaMo Sarkar’ was the national mood and Lohiya-JP’s agenda was hijacked by BJP in ‘Congress-free India; Corruption-free India.’ Appeasement of the Hindu majority through annulling triple talaq and special status of Kashmir formed the booster dose of a new brand of nationalism and patriotism. This mood was further enhanced and driven to hysteria by dropping a few bombs across Pakistan border.
So NaMo’s rival will have to travel the country and like Mao said ‘learn from the people’. Talking just to leaders might blur the stark ground realities. Once the national mood is known he can ask , like Job, the waves to approach or go back.
Ironically, as I write this, Rahul Gandhi has declared that he will do a Bharat Jodo Yatra very soon. I have a simple suggestion. Let it first be Bharat Samazo.
On this too, NK’s record is better.
- Vinay Hardikar
(The writer has been working in the public sphere of Maharashtra for the last five decades. His versatile personality has several dimensions, but the primary ones remain to be that of an established writer, journalist, editor, critic, activist, and teacher.)