Red-faed Ex Deputy CM & Bihar BJP Strong man mocks at Nitish Kumar’s Morality, says, the self proclaimed Nitish Babu is not Arvind Kejriwal!. If Nitish Kumar had been Arvind Kejriwal, Nitish would not have souight support from corrupt Congress & RJD said Sushil Kumar Modi
Former deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi (SuMo) said on Saturday that CM-designate Nitish Kumar owed to the people of the state a serial apology for a number of political mistakes that he made after winning the assembly elections for a second time in November 2010.SuMo said Nitish has already apologized to the people of the state for tendering resignation after the parliamentary elections, in which his party JD (U) could win only two of the 40 parliamentary seats in the state.He said Nitish, however, has committed five other mistakes, for which he should also tender public apology. According to him, people of the state had given a massive mandate to run the affairs of the state and take the Bihar turnaround story forward, but he, by breaking the state NDA government, had committed the first major mistake.”Nitish, in fact, insulted the popular mandate when he broke the BJP-JD(U) alliance,” SuMo said, adding he forged alliance with RJD chief Lalu Prasad even as the mandate given to him was to stall the return of Lalu.Subsequently, during the parliamentary elections, Nitish tried to create obstacles in the way of the then PM candidate of the BJP Narendra Modi, who wanted to give a strong government at the Centre, SuMo said, and added that even though Nitish came as a cropper in his bid, he owes an apology to the people of the state.In his bid to wrest power from now caretaker CM Jitan Ram Manjhi, Nitish forced Speaker Uday Narayan Choudhary to take unconstitutional steps, he said, adding he also made unbecoming remarks against governor K N Tripathi. These were two instances of insulting the constitutional posts, which also require an apology from him.On the other hand, BJP national spokesman and former Bhagalpur MP Shahnawaz Hussain said that Nitish, who had campaigned actively against Lalu and declaration of the President’s rule during his ‘Nyaya Yatra’ in March 2005, had now ensured the return of Lalu and his party to power in the state after around 10 years.”The new government that Nitish would lead will not be only of him, but Nitish-Lalu rule for all practical purposes,” Shahnawaz said.Meanwhile, the state BJP felicitated Union minister for skill development Rajiv Pratap Rudy for flying the Sukhoi plane. Shahnawaz said he is the only Union minister and only Bihari to have achieved this feat.The gravity of power in Delhi rests at 7 RCR – Race Course Road, the prime minister’s residence. In Patna, the new centre of power is 7 CR – Circular Road, Nitish Kumar’s residence. The physical distance between these two power centres is 1031 km. But the political distance between the residents of these two famous addresses is infinite.
If Kejriwal can, so can I
In May, Narendra Modi had handed Nitish Kumar the biggest political defeat of his life. His party, the Janta Dal United, had been routed in the Lok Sabha polls, its tally crashing from 20 in 2009 to two in 2014. The JD(U) was in disarray, critics within were clamouring for Nitish’s head. “Sushasan Babu” as he was called, took moral responsibility and stepped down. Nitish couldn’t reconcile to the scale of the defeat and that too at the hands of his arch-nemesis, the man over whose elevation he had split his party’s 17-year alliance with the BJP. His famed social engineering formula of bringing together the Extremely Backward Castes (EBCs) had flopped. Even the Muslims of Bihar had not rallied around Nitish. Shoulders drooping, morale crushed, it seemed the end of the political road for a man who had tried to remove the so-called stigma of being a “Bihari”.
But nine months is a long time in politics. Cut to February 2015. Narendra Modi has tasted the first electoral defeat under his leadership at the hands of the diminutive Arvind Kejriwal. The AAP’s heroics were one of the key triggers for Nitish Kumar to demand the CM’s chair back from Jitan Ram Manjhi. Though many years decades senior to Kejriwal in politics, the JD(U) chief was inspired by the spirited campaign the Aam Aadmi Party leader ran to rout the mighty BJP in the capital. If Kejriwal can, so can I, thought Nitish. In the first week of February as opinion polls and feedback from the ground started showing that Kejriwal was winning Delhi, Nitish decided to take advantage of the fact that the BJP was distracted and under pressure.
A renunciation gone horribly wrong
What Nitish didn’t account for was Manjhi’s refusal to step down from the CM’s post. The hitherto unknown Manjhi had been handpicked by Nitish as his replacement because he rarely spoke, was known not to have strong views and could be expected to follow the dictation given by his boss.
On all three counts, Manjhi proved Nitish wrong. His tenure was riddled by a series of controversial statements. From justifying his son’s extra-marital affair with a married police woman to saying it was okay for the poor to indulge in black marketing and hoarding to going to the extent of suggesting that wives couldn’t be trusted when their husbands travelled for work outside Bihar, Manjhi was blurting a blooper a week.For the first three months, Manjhi dutifully implemented whatever Nitish wanted. But a coterie of leaders and Dalit bureaucrats around him started pumping him up by telling him what a wonderful job he was doing and how he was being seen as a big hope by Bihar’s numerically significant Dalits.The BJP played a big role in prodding Manjhi to go against his one time mentor. The Senior BJP leaders were in constant touch with the CM. They were offering him full support and even telling him that the BJP would offer tickets to the JD(U) MLAs who Manjhi was able to break away from Nitish’s fold.Turbocharged by the support being promised by the BJP, Manjhi decided to free himself of the umbilical cord tying him to Nitish. The former CM’s trusted bureaucrats were shunted to insignificant posts and Manjhi brought in his own men. He even announced a series of populist but fiscally imprudent measures with an eye on consolidating the Dalit vote bank. The Mahadalits may have been a category of castes brought together by Nitish but Manjhi wanted to be their undisputed leader.
Buil-up to the anti-climax
His protégé had gone rogue and aides were putting pressure on Nitish to crack the whip against Manjhi. But Nitish was initially hesitant. After all he had taken the high moral ground while resigning and electorally nothing had changed since May. But anti-incumbency against the JD(U) government was spiralling, corruption was rampant again and the law and order situation was deteriorating rapidly. During a flight from Patna to Delhi in January, a young Bihari walked up to the former CM and gave him a piece of his mind for letting Bihar fall back into the dark ages. The young man’s admonition, Nitish claims, left a deep mark and he realised that he had to act before it was too late.There were at least three dozen disgruntled MLAs in the JD(U) who had indicated that they were willing to back Manjhi. The rebel RJD MP Pappu Yadav was also hard at working mobilising support for the CM. Lalu’s grip on his party seemed shaky and more than a dozen RJD MLAs indicated that they were willing to jump ship. With the BJP coming out and declaring open support for the CM 48 hours before the vote of confidence, Manjhi was hopeful his boat would sail through comfortably. The magic figure of 117 was within sight.
But the day before the vote of confidence the Patna High Court dealt a double whammy to Manjhi. Eight JD(U) rebel MLAs were disqualified from participating in the vote of confidence on February 20. The court also upheld key Nitish man and Bihar speaker Uday Narayan Chaudhary’s controversial decision to grant the JD(U) the status of the opposition party in the Assembly.
Suddenly Manjhi was still in government but in fact he was all alone. Had a vote of confidence taken place on Friday, the Vidhan Sabha in Patna would have witnessed the unprecedented scene of a CM sitting all by himself in the treasury benches. Manjhi had been expelled from the JD(U) but most of his supposed supporters were officially still members of Nitish’s party. Because the JD(U) had issued a whip, even Manjhi’s backers would have had to sit in the opposition benches along side the 87 BJP MLAs. The speaker had already ruled out a secret ballot. Every MLA who disobeyed the party whip and voted for Manjhi would have risked disqualification under the Anti-Defection Law.
The ambitious protégé had been checkmated by his wily mentor. Manjhi realised that his time was up when 98 JD(U) MLAs, 22 RJD MLAs and five Congress MLAs showed up at the dinner hosted by Nitish Kumar the night before the vote of confidence. Jubilation was in the air. Nitish was beaming. His swagger was back. The JD(U)’s joyous MLAs hailed it as the “victory feast”.
At the same time, there was another dinner being hosted across the road at the chief minister’s residence. Only a dozen Manjhi loyalists had shown up. Two of them, Manjhi later said, had come covered in a bed-sheet to avoid being spotted by Nitish’s men who were on the look out. The elaborate catering had been done by Patna’s famed Maurya Hotel. But the food had lost its taste. The MLAs were scared of being forced to resign. Manjhi summoned his secretariat at midnight and got them to type out three letters.
The first letter to the governor sought dissolution of the house. The second was his resignation letter. The third was a complaint to the governor against the partisan behaviour of the speaker. To fight or to throw in the towel, that was the question. Till 3am Manjhi was busy in confabulations with his aides. Without telling them what he was thinking, the CM went to to his room to ruminate over his next step.
When he woke up early the next morning, Manjhi was clear. He would not risk the ignominy of being all alone on the treasury benches. There was a real possibility of the JD(U) and the BJP MLAs coming to blows. Manjhi decided to shun bravado and chose a tactical retreat instead.
Minutes before the governor Keshari Nath Tripathi was slated to arrive at the Bihar Assembly to deliver his address, Manjhi decided to pay him an unscheduled visit. Manjhi means boatsman in Hindi. Instead of drowning with his boat, Manjhi decided to jump off the sinking vessel and swim to the shore. He wanted to live to fight another day.
Aftershocks in battlefield Bihar
Manjhi’s summersault left the BJP red-faced. His handlers in the saffron party had wanted Manjhi to deliver an emotional farewell address and go down in a blaze of glory. The BJP hoped Manjhi would attain political martyrdom and emerge as a pan-Bihar Dalit icon. The BJP wanted Manjhi to form his own party, which would cut into Nitish’s crucial Mahadalit vote. Along with RJD renegade Pappu Yadav, the BJP was banking on the emergence of a third front which would split the anti-BJP vote. Pappu Yadav was to eat into Lalu’s Yadav vote bank while Manjhi chipped away at Nitish’s support among the Mahadalits. The BJP wanted to divide and rule. In the Lok Sabha elections, the party had swept Bihar because the anti-BJP vote was split. In the Assembly elections too, the party wanted to avoid a consolidation of the anti-Modi vote. Nitish could have potentially united the non-saffron vote and brought back a semblance of governance to Bihar in the last six months before the Assembly elections. The BJP had wanted to stop Nitish at all costs from becoming CM again.
Instead, Manjhi’s histrionics helped Nitish reestablish his control over the JD(U). Dissenters have been silenced, at least for the time being. It has also removed the speed breakers slowing down the proposed merger between the JD(U) and Lalu’s RJD. The tension of Manjhi’s rebellion saw the JD(U) and the RJD leaders working closely together to prevent their flock from fleeing. Voters of the two parties may not yet be fully reconciled to the proposed merger between the two parties, but the leaders realise that it is a question of survival and are working towards the micro-detailing of the merger with renewed vigour.
Who benefits from Manjhi’s boat sinking
For the time being, Manjhi is keeping his cards close to his chest. Speaking to the India Today Group during a walk in the lawns of his 1, Anne Marg residence the day after his resignation, Manjhi dropped hints about his future course of action. “People thought I was a puppet of the BJP but I have shown that I am truly independent. Even today I have nothing against Nitish Kumar. If the new government carries forward the pro-poor schemes announced by me, then I will support the new government. Otherwise I will travel all across Bihar and campaign against Nitish.” Lalu Yadav has thrown ajar the doors of the Janata Parivar by asking Manjhi to bury past differences and return to the “secular fold”.
The BJP is trying hard to play down the significance of the Manjhi plan backfiring. “We have shown the people of Bihar that the BJP sided with the son of a Mahadalit while Nitish was scheming to oust Manjhi. This will hurt the JD(U) in the elections,” senior Bihar BJP leader Sushil Modi told the India Today Group at his residence in Patna. When asked whether Manjhi will join the BJP in the near future, Modi turned philosophical. “In the darkness you cannot see beyond the light of a torch. In politics you can only see what is happening today not what might happen tomorrow. No one can predict what happens six months later and who knows what Manjhi will do next.”
The worst case scenario for the BJP is Manjhi mending fences with Nitish and returning to the Janata Parivar. They are planning on targeting Nitish by highlighting 15 years of jungle raj under his new partner Lalu. “Nitish cannot become Bihar’s Kejriwal while he has Lalu by his side,” said Sushil Modi. Nitish’s defence is that most of the strongmen like Pappu Yadav, Sadhu Yadav, Subhash Yadav and Shahbbuddin who gave Lalu’s government a bad name are no longer in the RJD.
The chief minister is turning his swearing-in into a major show of strength for anti-Modi forces. Apart from his fellow travellers from the Janata Parivar, Lalu Yadav and Mulayam Singh Yadav, West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee will also be in attendance. Sharing the dais will be CP Joshi from the Congress, former PM Deve Gowda and Abhay and Dushyant Chautala from Haryana’s INLD.
Arvind Kejriwal has not been invited to Nitish’s swearing-in. When asked why, he said, “Journalists get carried away by what’s been in the news recently. Kejriwal has to do his work in Delhi and we have to do ours in Bihar”. The new Delhi CM may be absent at the swearing-in function, but his heroics will linger in the thoughts of Bihar’s comeback man.