From being talked about as a possible Prime Ministerial candidate (talk that he fanned assiduously for years), Nitish Kumar, the Chief minister of Bihar, has reduced himself to Indian politics' nowhere man.
He has brought this upon himself by bolting last year from his coalition with the Congress and Lalu Yadav to the BJP. Now, all of Patna is abuzz that Nitish overestimated his political smarts and underestimated frenemy Narendra Modi's capacity to exact revenge while the BJP implements a systematic plan to cut Nitish down to size.
As part of this plan, Arijit Shashwat, the son of union minister Ashwini Kumar, thumbed his nose at Kumar and fuelled communal tension in the state. This new rebooted relationship with the BJP has witnessed the largest number of communal incidents ever. A recent report
says that there have been 200 incidents with communal overtones since July 2017 and 64 in 2018 alone.
This puts a huge question mark over the rule of law in Bihar along with Nitish's calling card as "Sushasan Babu"
(Man of Governance) who ended the RJD's "jungle raj"
in Bihar. "Jungle raj"
is back with a vengeance and Nitish's ally, the BJP, appears to be fanning the communal flames in general election season.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar at an event in Patna
The Modi-Shah duo give no quarter to any ally as most have discovered, but Nitish is the most striking example.
This has inevitable consequences in the cow belt politics of Bihar in which the old-school show of power is prized; Nitish's stature is shrinking within his own party, the JDU, and a large section of his legislators are negotiating their way out to other parties, mainly the RJD. Reduced also are his bargaining power with the BJP and his hold over critical vote banks such as the Dalits and the minorities, angered by the BJP's politics and policies.
No longer is Nitish the default choice of the Muslim and "addhi pichda"
(most backward castes). His own Kurmi caste is a tiny component of Bihar's caste fabric which is why he has always had to ride piggy-back with the BJP or Lalu Yadav to stay in power.
Amit Shah seems to have embarked on a deliberate plan to reduce Nitish's political weight and ensure that the BJP is in active contention for Bihar's 40 Lok Sabha seats. The strategy? Ensuring that the upper castes vote en bloc for the BJP while keeping the communal cauldron simmering.
Nitish Kumar with BJP chief Amit Shah (File photo)
Nitish's self-promoted "conscience" seems to seems to have been shoved into mute mode as he is outmatched by Modi and Shah.
After hailing demonetization and saying that Modi had no match in the opposition, Nitish was expecting that he would get within the NDA the status of most-favoured ally that he enjoyed in the UPA with Sonia Gandhi regularly stepping in to persuade Lalu Yadav to back off when the two Bihar leaders clashed.
Instead, Nitish is barely given any airing. Serial snubs are constant. Nitish let it be known that his party would get two slots in Modi's cabinet reshuffle in September last year. Not even one was forthcoming. Huge insult - and not a tacit one.
After that, Modi visited Patna last October and humiliated Nitish publicly when he asked that Patna University be made a central university to recover its lost glory. Modi said it should aim to be a "global leader".
Lalu's son, Tejashwi Yadav, who shows remarkable commitment in jabbing "uncle" Nitish, has rubbed in the fact that Bihar is still to get "special status" (allowing it massive financial aid from the centre). He has asked Nitish, who he calls "Kursi
why he is not following Chandrababu Naidu's example in holding the centre accountable on the issue.
Since July last year, Tejashwi Yadav has consistently attacked the Chief Minister and his government (File photo)
A visibly irate Nitish was forced to call a press conference last month and say that he has been raising the demand of special status for Bihar for the last 13 years and that he would raise it again before the 15th Financial Commission which decides how tax revenue should be divided between the centre and states. What he should have added sotto voce is that the centre would ignore it as it has ignored all his calls.
So what next for Nitish? A section of his close aides and friends in the media have started saying that he will flip-flop again and abandon the BJP if Modi and Shah keep pushing him to the wall. What could prevent this move is his awareness that his switch to what he calculated was the winning side has grossly punched his credibility.
Lalu's RJD will simply have nothing to do with him and after he pinned a lot of the blame for their break-up on Congress president Rahul Gandhi, the Congress also does not want to "friend" Nitish again. Sonia Gandhi is learnt to have personally felt let down when he abandoned the UPA.
Nitish has in recent days tried to desperately shore up a faction within the NDA with other leaders from Bihar such as Ram Vilas Paswan and Upendra Kushwaha to stop the BJP from breathing down their collective necks. They want to set up a strong front to make Shah listen to them. A senior BJP leader from Bihar says, "They are wasting their time, Shah is not known to listen to leaders who have no bargaining power."
RJD supremo Lalu Prasad Yadav has attacked Nitish Kumar for not being able to secure the special category status for Bihar (File photo)
In 2014, Nitish's party which contested the general election independently got 16 percent of the vote. This, say experts, is unlikely to repeat in 2019.
To win back the Muslims, Nitish has also now started visiting dargahs
wearing skull caps, but, claims an RJD leader, "He can't fool the minorities again. Say what you will about Lalu, he has never had an alliance with the BJP. When the minorities are under siege in Bihar, these gestures fool no one".
Nitish once told me in an interview that if Lalu had stuck with him, he would have ensured that Lalu became PM. Perhaps Yadav would tell him the same thing now.(Swati Chaturvedi is an author and a journalist who has worked with The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times.)Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.