June 13, 2015

WILL CHANKYA'S NEETI WORK?

NITISH LED 'SECULAR' FRONT TO TAKE ON THE MODI BRIGADE

The JD-U supremo Nitish Kumar who is dubbed by several political analysts as the modern day 'Chanakya' of the Indian political spectrum, pulled off another major political coup earlier this week when his name was declared as the official chief ministerial nominee of the newly formed and 'loosely knit' Janata Parivaar (JP) for the upcoming Bihar polls. With the war of words between the leaders of the state's top two regional parties - the JD-U and the RJD escalating over the past two months, the announcement made by the Janata Parivaar's de-facto chief Mulayum Singh Yadav ended weeks of speculations of a possible break down in the anti-BJP plank even before the elections. In what seemed to be a well choreographed affair, the name of Nitish as the face of the alliance was proposed by none other than his friend turned foe turned friend - Lalu Yadav.

Check Mating Lalu: Like Kautaliya who crafted the downfall of the much powerful Nanda Empire by training his protégé Chandragupta Maurya in the fourth century BC, the incumbent CM too played his cards well in the race to be the 'face' of the grand alliance. Having deposed his self-appointed successor Jitam Ram Manjhi from the helm of affairs after the latter refused to be a mere puppet, Nitish knew very well that the move could hurt him electorally with a section of the influential Maha-Dalit community refusing to back him for having mistreated their leader. Moreover, the lessons of the September 2014 by-polls were not lost on him; for halting the Modi juggernaut it was essential to keep the mega coalition together. At the same time though, to salvage lost pride and to maintain political relevance, it was equally important for him to lead it. With Lalu in the equation and the bitter animosity between the two leaders since the mid 90s being a stuff of legends, this was not going to be easy. Though the RJD chief has been barred from contesting elections after being convicted in the Fodder Scam, he was, or rather he still is, not very keen to fight the polls under the leadership of his one time rival. The Yadav strong man is a master in the art of dirty politics and side lining him was going to be a herculean task within itself.

This is exactly where Nitish displayed his political acumen; fully aware that the Congress, in spite of its moribund state of affairs in Bihar would still play a decisive role in deciding the CM candidate of the coalition, the JD-U chief had a special audience with Rahul Gandhi on a visit to Delhi. It is believed that the Congress Vice President, unlike his mother does not have a good opinion of the RJD chief. On the other hand, he has been vocal about his admiration of Nitish. One can recollect several instances wherein the junior Gandhi had praised the Bihar CM for his secular credentials even while he was an integral part of the NDA. In fact, this move was a master stroke; soon after the meeting, reports from the Congress camp suggested that INC would align with the JD-U irrespective of whether Lalu was with it or not. With the Gandhis turning their back on Lalu, the path was more or less clear for Kumar to head the anti-BJP plank. Moreover, Nitish's image as the man who transformed Bihar from Lalu's 'Jungle Raj' to one of the fastest growing states in India only further strengthened his prospects for the top post. As such, as the leaders of the Janata Parivaar met to discuss the course of action for the polls, the odds were comprehensively stacked in the favor of Nitish, forcing the wily Lalu to eat the humble pie.

The Nitish v/s Modi saga continues: With Kumar leading the mega coalition, the second part of the Modi - Nitish rivalry is all set to be played in the state of Bihar this winter. After walking out of the NDA over the candidature of the then Gujarat CM as the NDA candidate for the post of the Prime Minister, the Bihar CM was left with a bloody nose as Modi mania swept Bihar in May 2014, relegating the JD-U to a ignominious tally of two parliamentary seats. In a bid to save his face, Kumar resigned and handed power to his hand picked successor Jitin Ram Manjhi to appease the Maha Dalit community which voted for the BJP in the General Elections. In the mean time, following the realignment of the political forces in Bihar, Nitish and his new found allies - the RJD and the Congress managed to edge past the BJP by winning 6 of the 10 seats that went for the by-polls, a consolation victory of sorts. Ironically though, months later, as Manjhi transformed from a 'docile' leader into a 'clever' politician refusing to be 'controlled' by his party boss, Nitish expelled him from the JD-U and was himself back as the Bihar CM for the third time. With back to back political blunders, many were wondering if Nitish's astute acumen has deserted him and if his reign as Bihar's most powerful leader were numbered. And the man behind Nitish's unraveling was none other than his bete noire - Narendra Modi.

The Bihar polls is the perfect platform for Bihar CM to settle scores with the PM. A victory for the Janata Parivaar would be a jolt to the Modi bandwagon which hit a major road block when the AAP decimated the saffron party in Delhi earlier this year. A win would help Nitish regain most of the political pride that he had lost in the last two years and would re-establish him as a force to reckon with besides being a major fillip to the merger of the factions of the JP. However, there is a much bigger prize to be won, something that most political analysts have over looked thus far; after the General Polls, there is no 'credible' face to represent the anti-Modi or the non-NDA parties in the political sphere. The most obvious and legitimate choice to fill in this vacancy - Sonia Gandhi is not keeping well whereas the negativity still surrounding Rahul means that most believe that he is not yet 'mature' enough for the job. Regional satraps like Jayalalithaa and Patnaik who managed to fend off the Modi wave in their respective home turfs have been on cordial terms with the new government. Mamata Bannerjee has of late mellowed her anti-Modi rhetoric. The mess around AAP in the recent months has hit Arvind Kejriwal's popularity; the party's influence has not moved beyond the NCR in spite of that fabulous victory in February. A victory for the JP under Nitish would automatically catapult him to being the new anti-Modi face in Indian politics.

The Ground Realities: Though the coalition may have been announced, it remains to be seen how the talks regarding the seat sharing arrangements between the many constituents of this grand alliance progress in the coming weeks. Though the issue of the CM candidate has been settled for now, the basis for seat allocation has become another pain point for the two parties. The RJD wants the 2014 General Elections to be the basis to arrive at the seat sharing formula whereas the JD-U wants it to be the 2010 state polls. A bigger worry for the leaders of the alliance is whether their cadre and workers at the ground level are able to forget all the past differences and work together as a team. Considering the 'hatred' that the JD-U and the RJD have shared in the past, that seems to be a near impossible task. And lastly, will the alliance be able to break the caste barrier? For example, will a Yadav who has a loyal voter of the RJD for decades now vote for a JD-U nominee contesting as a candidate of the JP from his seat? Considering that the Yadavs harbour a special dislike for Kumar for ending their political dominance in Bihar, will they be comfortable with him as the CM candidate? Moreover, it remains to be seen how much damage will the Manjhi mishap cost in terms of the Extremely Backward Caste (EBC) votes. Surely, the modern day 'Chanakya' will have to put in all the 'Neeti' and perhaps, even some 'Kutneeti' to score a memorable hat-trick!