Narendra Modi should be grateful to Nitish Kumar. The Bihar chief minister has gifted Modi an opportunity to prove his critics—or whatever is left of them—wrong and make them shut up forever.
Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar addressing mediapersons at his official residence in Patna. UNI PHOTO
In the context of India's current political narrative, Nitish isn't an ordinary character. If there is one politician cast in the role of Modi's exact opposite, it is Nitish. Like Arjuna and Karna—two warriors tied to their loyalties—they were the arch enemies of this epic battle. Like Sherlock Holmes and James Moriarty (not to say who is who), they were each other's nemesis in the game of shadowy politics.
One represented skull-cap as the emblem of India's inclusive politics; the other rejected it as an exclusive mark of its pseudo secular past. One was ridiculed for failing to perform Raj Dharma when riots broke out in his backyard; the other was pilloried for getting frozen when bombs went off at the other's rally in his state capital.
One represented Gujarati asmita and its development model, the other championed Bihar's achievements and its pride as the better alterantive.
The two Ns were not just different personalities; they were different ideologies, economies and development models.
Now that Nitish lies vanquished on the poll turf, his Bihari pride destroyed, skull-cap metaphor rejected and development model discarded, Modi has the political licence to go for the kill. But should he?
Everybody expects—and that is why Nitish has resigned-- Modi to encourage defections and resignations to make the Nitish government fall. But should he?
Modi doesn't need to extract revenge from Nitish for being 'stabbed in the back', as he bellowed at his Hunkar Rally, by thrusting the dagger deeper into his enemy's already broken heart. The voters have already done that for him. Now it is time to heal, not hurt.
As the world waits for him, as his fans silently chant 'kill him, kill him', Modi should seek to forgive and forget. Not only should he discourage defections and resignations, he should ensure that Nitish lasts the full term.
Consider the advantages. In one stroke he would prove his critics wrong, assuage the fears of his foes, impress the minorities and heal the Biharis—who have been divided like never before because of a divisive campaign. By dealing with Nitish the way Sikander (Alexander) had treated another vanquished king Porus, he can prove that his '56-inch' claim is indeed a metaphor for his large heart.
Moral high ground apart, Modi can gain a lot politically. Let us not forget Nitish is a popular chief minister. Pre-poll surveys had come up with extremely high approval ratings for his government. It can be argued that there are many in Bihar who want Modi as PM and Nitish as CM. By not disturbing Nitish, Modi can help those torn between the two the pain of another bitter election.
His resignation will make Nitish a martyr. Some may turn against the BJP for engineering his fall and causing instability. The exigency of an impending election and the lessons from the humiliation of the recent election may unite him and Lalu, a move that has already been initiated by Sharad Yadav.
Modi should let the Nitish government run its full course. By turning his arch enemy into an enduring symbol of his magnanimity, Modi may lose Bihar in the short run. But he will win over India for ages.