By Sushil Kutty
Nitish Kumar with the flex facade of the ramparts of the ‘Lal Qila’ behind him, with the tricolour for maximum effect, told the story of things to come and a rattled Bharatiya Janata Party descended on the Bihar Chief Minister, aspiring to give Prime Minister Narendra Modi the proverbial boot, like a tonne of red bricks, the kind which made the ramparts of the Red Fort the symbol of India’s sovereignty and power.
BJP leaders like Giriraj Singh were doubly shocked; how uncanny this was? The Iftar and Nitish Kumar in a patently Muslim cap, surrounded by more Muslim caps! Giriraj Singh thought he had been transported back in time, to the days of Jahangir and Shahjahan. It was only the other day that Uttar Pradesh had cut out chapters on the Mughals from NCERT school books!
And here was action-reaction straight off the bat; the Mughal ambiance resurrected in nearly all its glory. What about “Hindu Rashtra”? Giriraj struck all the right rightwing notes but it was all water off a duck’s back. The JD(U) spokesman in the panel refused to be drawn into a slanging match. Even otherwise, the verbal duel was not helping the state government to control the burning conflagrations in Sasaram and Nalanda, where a 100-year-old madrasa with a 4000-rare books library was set on fire by Hindu rioters. It reminded people of the death by fire of Nalanda University, the tit-for-tat delayed by centuries.
Nitish Kumar appeared quite satisfied with himself in the TV grabs; the fires burning, and the stone-pelting outside not worth his considered attention so long as there were uniformed men wielding their power in the streets, and in the alleys, both dank and decent. Nitish Kumar was following his version “Raj Dharma” in a communal conflagration.
This was not Gujarat 2002, this was Bihar 2023. The last time, before 2023, Union Home Minister Amit Shah went to a riot-hit Bihar was in 2017-18, much before the 2019 general elections, which the BJP won with a brute majority. This time the Home Minister promised to hang rioters upside down from the rafters and beat the hell out of them.
Will the Modi government order an inquiry into how the Red Fort was replicated in Biharsharief? What, if inspired by the startling feat, “creative miscreants” uprooted the Red Fort brick by brick and brought the dismantled fort to Patna for Nitish Kumar’s inauguration as Prime Minister? It could happen. Maybe, it was an AI Chatbot at work.
The Bihar Chief Minister has been aiming to become Prime Minister for decades. At one time he was the sole rival to Modi for the Prime Minister’s post. But then, for reasons undisclosed, Nitish Kumar shucked the PM dream and went back to ruling Bihar. If Prime Minister Narendra Modi heaved a sigh of relief, nobody saw or heard.
The BJP says the flex backdrop of the Red Fort was Nitish Kumar’s lifelong wish to become Prime Minister of India. The state unit of the BJP rubbished “Nitish Kumar’s dream”, marking it “PM was unrealizable”. But by saying this, the BJP was betraying nervousness, and a “what if?” was taking hold. What if Nitish Kumar really defeats Narendra Modi?
The BJP looked stunned. Former Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad also sounded a little off-colour; the otherwise voluble and camera-friendly politician was not able to hold his flying feet to the ground, which must have shifted from under his feet when he saw the Red Fort in Biharsharief, Patna. Shocking!
It is a cinch nobody in the BJP expected Nitish Kumar would so brazenly grab the Muslim vote-bank and, with Red Fort and rampart in the frame, send a message to the BJP and the Prime Minister that all the trope about Pasmanda Muslim votes was BJP’s tall talk towards a short end. No Muslim worth his Zam Zam and skullcap would vote BJP in a general election.
Nitish Kumar has been trying to get the Opposition to unite for months. He was to act decisively after the budget session. The Red Fort is symbolic of power and by fronting an image of it in Patna, Nitish Kumar has uncannily conveyed a loaded message to Prime Minister Narendra Modi that power was shifting and would slip out of Modi’s hand come 2024; that it was only a matter of time before Nitish Kumar unfurls the tricolour from the Red Fort.
Coming so soon after Arvind Kejriwal’s “uneducated PM” jibes, Nitish Kumar’s symbolic takeover of the reins of power is a statement of intent which has rattled the Bharatiya Janata Party. Nitish Kumar had always considered himself a notch or two above Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in terms of calibre. It was left unspoken, but it hung there in the air between the two, living and throbbing, which the Prime Minister can no longer shrug away, or dismiss off-hand. (IPA Service)