Lalu Yadav’s Chanakya Nitish helped him emerge as Bihar’s tallest leader. He was instrumental in giving Lalu a makeover of a socialist leader. He helped Lalu become leader of the opposition in 1989 and stood behind him when he became chief minister in 1990. Like others, he, too, was a fan of Lalu’s fiery speeches and his deft ability of pull large crowds.
But how long can it last – the aura of socialism built around someone when power rapidly corrupts the person, something that happened with Lalu. Soon after Lalu rode to power, it became clear that it was indeed a government for nepotism and corruption run by one mighty family, the Yadavs of Bihar. So what if Lalu’s children were not grown-up then, there was no dearth of Lalu’s (and Rabri’s) relatives.
It might have led the socialist in Nitish Kumar, who has so far successfully kept his family away from meddling in politics, to pull away from Lalu. But even if Nitish left his ‘Bade Bhai (elder brother) Lalu in 1994, it was almost after a decade of political camaraderie.
Nitish then joined the BJP and the National Democratic Alliance, the coalition stitched by the BJP. He began his independent political career, away from Lalu Yadav, as union minister in Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s cabinet. He even had a brief stint as Bihar’s chief minister, his first term, for seven days, from March 3 to 10 in 2000. Even if Nitish had no numbers, in a controversial move, the Governor invited him to form the government but he had to quit as he failed to prove majority in the assembly. That certainly would have left Nitish with hurt pride and bitter feelings that later on reflected in his anti-Lalu politics, something that built his career.
He returned to state politics in 2005 and became chief minister of JDU-BJP led NDA coalition in November 2005. It was his second term and he did not look back since then. The alliance continued till 2013. His rise saw Lalu and his family being pushed to margins in Bihar’s politics. But like everyone errs, Nitish, too, faltered. He miscalculated his and his party’s prospects in the NDA by wrongly assessing that he could take on Narendra Modi. That didn’t happen and he split the JDU-BJP alliance in June 2013. But mind you, it was after 17 years.
After splitting with the BJP, Nitish didn’t join any other alliance. He needed few numbers to get majority that he easily got and he remained Bihar’s CM until the results of 2014 Lok Sabha in which Narendra Modi and the BJP routed his JDU. The Lok Sabha results, for the first time, clearly showed that for Nitish, it had become an ego issue. Though he stepped down, taking responsibility of the debacle, he kept the real power in his hands by installing a much weaker CM and before the assembly polls in 2015, assumed the chief-minister’s office again.
So, it was not basically an issue of principles and ethics. When he teamed up with Lalu to defeat the BJP, his bete noire, it became even more visible.
Nitish had been naturalized in the NDA with long years of association. But his ego forced him to enter into an unnatural alliance with Lalu, the anti-thesis of Nitish style of politics. So, it was doomed from the beginning. Lalu’s RJD emerging as the largest party only added to it as it was clear that Lalu wielded the real power by installing his inexperienced sons in plum power chairs.
So, all it needed was reconciliation. Nitish needed to reconcile with his inner self and needed to convince him that he was no match for Narendra Modi as his party JDU, limited to one state, was no match for the BJP, a pan-India party. The BJP spread post 2014 Lok Sabha elections, coupled with Lalu style of politics and corruption dominating Bihar again, would have helped Nitish.
Nitish was always comfortable in the NDA. His whole career in positions of power was in the NDA. He was a clear number two in RJD-JDU alliance and sooner and later he was going to make the decision. After he had reconciled, he needed an inflection point. Now there are many theories and conspiracy theories on what would have led Nitish to take the decision finally but the widening corruption net of Lalu family was a clear contender that would have pushed Nitish to take a call. And he listened to it. Now nothing is so straight in politics which is game of selfish permutations and combinations.
But Nitish should be given benefit of doubt because he only went back to where we was comfortable after an apparent reconciliation. And he cannot be termed an alliance hopper and U-turn man because in his long career, he has been in just two alliance only while, from north to south and from east to west, Indian politics is replete with party and alliance hoppers who have done it multiple times.