By Arun Srivastava
Dalit vs Dalit. The battle line has finally been drawn. While the Opposition’s pick Meira Kumar will challenge the NDA nominee Ram Nath Kovind with the motto to strengthen and uphold secular values, on his part Kovind will facilitate Sangh to reinvent itself and usher the country into a new polity with a distinct Hindutva super-structure.
A nasty controversy has erupted on the issue of Nitish Kumar breaking away from the Opposition rank and going all out to ensure the victory of Kovind. While his elder brother and senior partner of the grand alliance, Lalu Yadav called Nitish’s decision to support Kovind and not the combined Opposition candidate Meira Kumar, “Beti of Bihar” a ‘historic blunder’ and wondered how he could claim to be working for a ‘Sangh-mukt’ (RSS-free) country by backing an ‘RSS man’, Nitish strongly hit back, “If I have committed any blunder let it be”.
This statement from Nitish has really shocked observers. At the same time, it speaks of his desperation and frustration. Lalu was not much off the mark in describing his decision as a historic blunder as Nitish in the capacity of senior Opposition leader had suggested making the country ‘Sangh-mukt’. Leaders of the RJD and Congress, even the JD(U) confess: “Lalu has never made such a strong public statement on Nitish ever since the alliance was formed”.
The fact of the matter is Nitish is under moral obligation to stick to his decision. If the Sangh insiders are to be believed, Prime Minister Narendra Modi discussed the candidature of Kovind with Nitish and it was only after getting his nod that Modi placed it before the NDA leaders who finally consented. It is a wrong notion that Nitish extended his support to Kovind only after his name was announced. Nitish had made the task easier for the Sangh and BJP.
It is wrong to presume that the Opposition decision to field Meira Kumar was conjured up by Nitish’s posturing for Kovind. The nature of Kumar’s political pitch could be understood from the diatribe of his close aide, JD(U) general secretary K C Tyagi, who described the opposition meet which chose Meira Kumar as irrelevant.
Nitish’s exploit has not come as a surprise. Ever since the exercise for selecting the presidential candidate started, it was clear that, notwithstanding his rhetoric to support and strengthen the Opposition unity, Nitish will throw his weight behind the NDA candidate. His decision does not owe to any political crisis or compulsion instead it was his conscious choice.
Nitish supporting Kovind is an expression of revenge. The political development that had started taking a new turn just ahead of the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections made it abundantly clear that the Opposition was reluctant to accept Nitish as its leader and also prime ministerial candidate. The Opposition leaders nursed the feeling that he was soft towards Modi for obvious reasons.
In the eyes of Nitish, the main villain was Lalu. He had created a scenario in which the Opposition turned its back on Nitish. While Nitish was discussing the concept of Opposition unity with other leaders, Lalu was projecting himself as the key figure of Opposition unity. In fact what went against Nitish and created suspicion in the Opposition camp was his support to Modi’s various programmes and policies, especially demonetization. He was the only Opposition leader who openly supported Modi.
A closer look at the political trajectory of last six months would reveal that Nitish had launched a systematic campaign against Lalu, though in the public he tried to maintain the façade of camaraderie. Both the leaders are waiting for the right opportunity to hit back. Of course, Nitish has already launched the exercise in right earnest.
A couple of months ago, Nitish had met Sonia Gandhi to discuss the Opposition prime ministerial candidate. But she did not reveal her cards. For Nitish it was a personal humiliation. This is yet another major reason for Nitish to support Kovind, a move to make the Oopposition leaders realize his importance.
NDA nominating Kovind has come as boon for Nitish. While it kept open the possibilities for hia joining hands with Modi ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, it also provided an opportunity for him to brow beat Lalu Yadav. However, in the eyes of the JD(U) leaders, the most significant gain that is expected to accrue to Nitish is that he will win over the trust of the dalits in Bihar and emerge as the champion of the dalit cause. But this is far from the ground realities. For the dalits of Bihar Kovind has not been the favourite face. Instead they identify themselves with Meira Kumar, daughter of their icon Babu Jagjivan Ram.
Little doubt, with Opposition fielding Meira Kumar, Nitish has lost the initial gain. The Opposition meet might have been an irrelevant exercise in the eyes of Nitish and his aides, but one thing is certain and there is no more ambiguity that this year’s presidential election would be fought on a high ideological pedestal, which is expected to eventually redefine the future dalit politics in India.
Nitish splitting the dalit community and creating a new class of mahadalit has also come under criticism. Some dalit leaders and intellectuals argue; “it is a known fact that dalits are the cursed and exploited class. Now by splitting dalits, Nitish has created a new class of mahadalits implying that it is worse than the rest of the dalits. It obviously implied that at some level Nitish envisages that the condition of the dalits by and large has been better. Had it not been so, there was no need for splitting the dalits into two ranks.”
The Opposition decision is certainly a bigger challenge to Nitish Kumar than supporting Kovind. Nitish has the reputation of being a shrewd politician, but this time he has really been forced into a tight situation. His personal and secular credentials are under public scanner. However, it is a fact that at no stage in his life secularism has been a major ideological or political issue for him. He was always guided by his personal interest.
Interestingly, the choice of Meira hailing from Nitish’s state with unblemished public career and professional accomplishments has complicated the situation for the JD(U) supremo. His own JD(U) is split on this issue as most of the dalit and harijan leaders are very close to Meira. She was picked over the former Union home minister primarily because the Opposition leaders wanted to give JDU leader Nitish Kumar a fitting reply for jumping the ship, and dealing a blow to their efforts to forge a united front.
Amidst criticism, on Friday, Kumar not only reiterated his support to Kovind, but surprised the Opposition fraternity by saying; “I have a lot of respect for Meira Kumar, but ‘Bihar ki beti’ has been nominated only to lose”. Nitish also made it clear he will not back down from his support for Kovind as the next President despite a second appeal by RJD chief Lalu Yadav. Nitish shot down Lalu’s plea.
One thing is certain that the recent developments do not augur well for the grand alliance. The relation between Lalu and Nitish has deteriorated beyond redemption. The usual warmth between the two was not visible on Friday evening at the iftar party hosted by Lalu. They were sitting side by side but refrained from exchanging pleasantries. (IPA Service)