When Lalu Prasad as Bihar chief minister stopped BJP leader LK Advani’s rath yatra in Samastipur in 1990, he became a hero of the Muslims overnight.
Similarly, it was Nitish Kumar who stopped the onward march of Narendra Modi 25 years later in 2015. He is now looked upon as a challenger to Modi.
He had broken ranks with the BJP in 2013 because he was not willing to accept Modi as the PM candidate of the NDA.
However, the recent spate of crime incidents can scuttle his plans to become prime minister because politics is a matter of perception apart from numbers. His party, the Janata Dal (United), is not an all-India party but Bihar-based. The state has 40 parliamentary constituencies.
It is most likely that Nitish will fight the next Lok Sabha elections with the RJD and Congress. This means that the JD(U) will not contest more than 20 seats because the RJD and Congress will not settle for anything fewer than 15 and five, respectively. Even if the JD(U) wins all the 20, he would not be in a position to form the government at the Centre. Therefore, for him to become prime minister, he should be accepted as a leader by all the parties of the Third Front, if it is formed.
It is here that the allegations of Bihar becoming a Jungle Raj again can work against his interests. The PM aspirants, too many in the Third Front, might pitch themselves for the job, citing deteriorating law and order in Bihar.
Though Bihar does not come on top among the states on the cognisable crimes list prepared by the National Crime Records Bureau, what such data would not reveal is that Mohammad Shahabuddin, currently serving a life sentence for murder, was recently elevated to the RJD’s national executive committee. Shahabuddin cannot contest election but he is in the top decision-making body in the RJD. Others in the national executive are Lalu Prasad’s sons Tejashwi and Tej Pratap, and his daughter Misa Bharti, his eldest child.
The Aditya Kumar Sachdeva murder will be counted, but what will not be recorded is that he was killed by the son of a JD(U) politician.
The latest crime incident is the Hindustan journalist’s murder, in which an RJD worker is a suspect.
Nitish’s liquor ban might work well in Bihar and parts of eastern UP. But to be accepted as a national leader and an alternative to Modi he should rely on his trusted sushasan formula, which earned him the tag sushasan babu.
While reporting in a village in Bihar’s Baktiarpur district when I asked a 30-year-old whether he feared the return of the Jungle Raj, he said, “Nitishji bahut kadak hain, unke samne kisi ka nahi chalta” (Nitishji is a strict administrator, he won’t allow anything wrong).
It’s time he paid heed to the faith people have in him.
The views expressed are personal. The author tweets as @abhinavstweet