In two years of not so glorious rule, Bihar Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance) is dead. Is it surprising? No. This was a Grand Alliance of competing ambitions – of Lalu Prasad and his sons’ dream to rule Bihar, Nitish Kumar’s wish to continue ruling the state and of the Congress to stay relevant in the political game.
The Grand Alliance was formed in the first place to stop the BJP juggernaut following the Modi wave of 2014. Kumar, who had walked away from the BJP in 2013 to save his ‘secular’ image, joined hands with arch-rival Lalu Prasad’s RJD and Congress. Sensing the huge opportunity to settle his sons’ political careers, Lalu accepted Kumar’s leadership even after his party emerged with most number of seats in the dramatic Assembly elections in 2015.
The Grand Alliance rule appeared to have started well. But then, competing ambitions rarely co-exist and the fissures started to appear within a few months of the rule when Kumar decided to ban liquor in the state. As RJD leaders took potshots at Nitish, not once but regularly on many issues, it became apparent that the Alliance would not have a swift journey.
Potshots at Kumar from RJD were clear attempts by the RJD to set up a perfect platform for Lalu’s sons Tejashwi and Tej Pratap for the 2020 Assembly elections. We all remember the famous gangster Shahabuddin’s dare to Kumar, with the latter calling him a “circumstantial chief minister” after coming out of jail on bail. Criminal Shahbuddin continues to be a senior RJD leader.
मान. प्रधानमंत्री की शुभकामना हेतु धन्यवाद.भ्रष्टाचार से समझौता नहीं होगा. मुझे विश्वास है,केंद्र के सहयोग से राज्य में विकास को गति मिलेगी.
— Nitish Kumar (@NitishKumar) July 27, 2017
Kumar’s image took a hit with Shahabuddin’s comments and the Bihar CM had to fight back hard to put the gangster in his place – jail. Fissures in the uneasy grand alliance became more apparent when Nitish refused to toe the opposition’s take on demonetisation. Nitish understood the political implications of the opposition to demonetisation in advance, and he was proven right as BJP decimated opposition parties in following elections in many states. For how long could Nitish have continued to work with parties that didn’t respect or accept his decisions?
First rule of politics: Never lose the position of strength.
As RJD, Congress and other parties questioned Nitish’s character after demonetisation, it had become untenable for Bihar CM to continue with such an alliance. But he waited, for the perfect time and planned. It came within months as CBI and ED went after Lalu and his family including his Deputy CM son Tejashwi Yadav.
Several political commentators have said that instead of dumping the grand alliance, Nitish kumar should have fired Tejashwi, as it would have allowed him an “upper hand.” It has also been argued that Kumar committed a blunder by joining hands with “heavyweight” BJP, which is being seen by many as a party out to break all opposition. Author Rana Ayub wrote on NDTV.com, “For a politician as astute as Nitish Kumar, a better decision would have been the sacking of Tejashwi Yadav from the cabinet which would have allowed him the upper hand, rather than aligning with a heavyweight like the BJP which will seek to stunt his growth once.”
However, what such arguments miss is that Nitish’s survival as a politician in Bihar was at stake if he continued with the Grand Alliance. Not just his image of a leader who doesn’t tolerate corruption was deteriorating, but also his political capital. There were already hush-hush talks of a break-up within the JD(U). Even if Kumar had managed to run the Grand Alliance government for three more years with a battered ego and image, Lalu wouldn’t have stopped from promoting his sons at the cost of Kumar in 2020.
Coming to another question: Will BJP undermine Kumar’s ambitions? The Bihar CM has worked with BJP for 17 years and his political career or ambition was never challenged by the BJP. His present ambition is to run Bihar the way he wants. He will feel comfortable working with BJP in this regard. More so because of the mutual respect, Kumar and PM Modi now share for each other. However, in just two years of ruling with Lalu and sons, Kumar was suffocated. He couldn’t have continued for long like that for his own survival.
What will happen to Kumar’s PM ambition? Well, we do not know the future.