Conventional wisdom tells us that the Congress is investing in Nitish Kumar, the Bihar Chief Minister. The party sees in him a better bet than Lalu...
This is the reason why Manmohan Singh, who is deemed to be an apolitical Prime Minister, has volunteered a certificate to Nitish saying that he is secular, and his Congress party's four MLAs have seconded the trust vote in the Bihar Assembly.
Well, this may appear as politics of opportunism for the uninitiated but it comes naturally to Indian politicians. What matters to them is not party labels or ideologies but the winnability factor. Politicians in search of that elusive X factor are ever willing to follow the new star on the horizon. The credit for perfecting this art goes to the Comrades undoubtedly. Being a long-time friend of the Communists, it comes naturally to the Grand Old Party (GOP).
The Congress party's Nitish fixation has much to do with the media image of the JD-U leader. Most newspaper reports from Patna have been presenting him as the 'Vikas Purush', who has achieved an unbelievable turnaround in the Bihar scrip. At least in the Delhi media, it is very difficult to find a negative story about him, and the coverage brings to mind the fixation the national media once had with Chandrababu Naidu in his second term as the chief minister, and the way he was hailed as the CEO of AP incorporated.
And in the run-up to the 2004 election, the media pundits were clear that Naidu was going to win on the strength of his good work among the Self-help Groups, women's uplift and the geeks. Some analysts had gone to town to say that women would ensure another term to the TDP chief.
The forecast did not come true. And why the voters deserted Naidu became a subject of endless analysis. We, in the media, are often hostage to our own perceptions and refuse to see beyond our nose. Like politicians we report day in and day out. Otherwise, there is no reason to go wrong in our reading.
In the context of Nitish politics, his Janata Darbar is a much hyped exercise. So are his populist programmes. These have created two camps �one pro and another anti. By the very nature of government delivery systems, there can be no large pool of beneficiaries. But there can be a large pool of disenchanted people. The trickle-down effect is such.
Unless we, as a nation, give a go-by to the Nehruvian model, we have to live with this reality. The occasional story we hear from Bihar of crime, police brutality or social tensions tells that all is not well in the Nitish raj. The spread of Naxal raj is another flip-side of the Nitish story. In its short term pursuits, the Congress is missing the wood for the trees. For it, survival on the floor of Parliament is important as the JD-U leader can deliver as many as 22 Yes votes on the floor of the Lok Sabha to push neo-socialist legislation like Food Security Bill. And the party also hopes to benefit from the Nitish vote bank
Mulayam, Lalu and Nitish are hardcore Lohiaites. All the three have been cultivating the minority vote with varying degrees of success. Lalu considers as his crowning glory the arrest of L K Advani on his maiden Ram Rath Yatra. It paid him dividends. Nitish is hoping to do one up on his b�te noire by firing at NaMo on all cylinders. Whether he succeeds in his mission or not depends on how politics pan out.
The Congress is, however, convinced that he would succeed; it is clear from the way it is falling head over heel to pamper him. It brings to mind the way non-Congress parties courted NTR in the run-up to the 1983 Assembly election in Andhra Pradesh. One sadar of many battles told me after meeting NTR that his party had offered 'everything except our head' in return for a couple of seat adjustments with the TDP. The thespian-turned-politician did not oblige him as he needed no crutches at that time.
The short point in the context of Congress-Nitish politics is that the GOP's expectations of gain may prove to be illusory in the end. Like the 'shining' BJP suffered on account of its tie-up with Naidu in Andhra Pradesh, the Congress may be hit by Nitish's anti-incumbency, and it may not cross into double digits at the end of the day. As the Communist Parties and the BJP have learnt the hard way, there is no electoral nirvana unless a party manages to strike deep roots.
First the CPI and then the CPI-M have paid the price for neglecting, (indeed, ignoring) grassroots work amongst peasants and workers, particularly in the Hindi belt. This was the reason why the CPI had suffered a split in the 1990s when Mulayam hijacked two of its three UP MLAs. From its Jana Sangh days, the BJP rarely looked beyond its familiar turf. The Advani Yatra helped the party to make some inroads into the OBCs and lower castes but this phenomenon is largely limited to the cow belt. The party failed to consolidate on the advantage.
Now Advani has become "Blog-vani' and he stands discarded by core BJP. His isolation in the party became clear on the day he sent in his resignation to party president Rajnath Singh. Not one member of the so-called Advani durbar stood by him and announced their resignations. It was, indeed, a missed opportunity for creating a churning in the party. It only demonstrated the politics of short-sightedness that have become the hallmark of Indian politics.
(The writer can be reached at email@example.com)