In backing Nitish Kumar, Modi sets up corruption-versus-development plank for 2019 | analysis | Hindustan Times
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In backing Nitish Kumar, Modi sets up corruption-versus-development plank for 2019

One often hears clarion calls for parties to come together for the sake of secularism. But secular-versus-communal debates have gone in favour of the BJP in the past few elections.

analysis Updated: Jul 28, 2017 00:44 IST
DK Singh
Chief minister of Bihar Nitish Kumar (L) with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi.
Chief minister of Bihar Nitish Kumar (L) with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi.(PTI File Photo)

To the many firsts to his credit, Narendra Modi might add another in 2019. He could be the first Prime Minister to seek a fresh mandate on the issue of corruption against opposition parties.

Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar gave it a bolster Wednesday evening when he and Modi spoke in synchrony, virtually projecting the collapse of JD(U)-RJD-Congress mahagathbandhan or grand alliance as another manifestation of the PM’s war against corruption. The JD(U) leader had no compunction in joining hands with Lalu Prasad in 2014, a fodder scam convict even then.

For Kumar, his political somersault serves his immediate objective, that is to place him firmly in the saddle with the Yadav family no longer pulling the reins. It might also mean an end to his prime ministerial ambition — howsoever putative — in 2019. But the Bihar chief minister obviously read the writing on the wall. Or so his friends in political circles think.

For the BJP, the implications of Kumar’s return to the NDA fold go beyond the 40 Lok Sabha seats in Bihar. Even without him, the BJP and its allies had won 31 of them in 2014.

His entry into the NDA fold delivers a blow to the Congress-led efforts to forge a Bihar-type grand alliance at the national level. CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury’s tweets Wednesday evening betrayed frustration. “A point to ponder. Bihar CM’s resignation at this moment, when atrocities against Dalits and minorities are rising across India, helps whom?” he asked.

He must have similar questions for his party comrades, too. At a time there are few listeners to the Left’s voice, Yechury has made it heard through his forceful interventions in Parliament. He looked set for another term in the Rajya Sabha but the party’s central committee met on Tuesday to veto it. The reason: the Left can’t take Congress’ support for the RS polls.

While comrades obviously did a favour to the BJP, their stance vindicated the skeptics who see a national mahagathbandhan as a non-starter. It has proved easier for the BJP to shed its political untouchability than for the Congress to emerge as the conscience-keeper of a motley group of parties whose genesis was in anti-Congressism.

Die-hard optimists in the opposition camp, the advocates of mahagathbandhan at the national level, are not wrong about their arithmetic: 31% voters for Modi and 69% for others in 2014 Lok Sabha elections. But politics is about chemistry, too. If Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad couldn’t stick even with the glue of power, how will Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav, Mamata Banerjee and Yechury/Adhir Ranjan Choudhury, or Arvind Kejriwal and Sheila Dikshit?

One often hears clarion calls for parties to come together for the sake of secularism. But secular-versus-communal debates have gone in favour of the BJP in the past few elections.

In today’s context, the CBI, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and income tax department might be more effective in making a mahagathbandhan a reality. If these agencies stay on the heels of opposition leaders, they might see the need for an alliance — on ideological grounds, obviously — in 2019.

Modi has already fixed 2022 for his ‘New India’ to realise its dreams. Busy with Hindutva-versus-secularism debate, opposition parties don’t seem inclined to talk about jobs, education, economy, or foreign policy. Lest they should in 2019, the BJP already has its plank ready: how can the corrupt ask questions about development?

Modi caught the entire opposition on the wrong foot in the rich-versus-poor fight through demonetisation. They might find themselves on the same side in a corruption-versus-development debate in 2019. The template has already been set in Bihar.