The Outcome of the War in Pataliputra Will Lay Future Contours of Road to Indraprastha
Power corrupts even the saintly. The insatiable hunger for absolute power corrupts ideology, absolutely beyond redemption. An elegy of moral belief is being penned in Bihar as the countdown for the crucial Assembly elections begins. Individuals seeking power at any post and cost are incinerating ideologies. Hence, the irony of opportunism was lost on Bihar CM Nitish Kumar when he drove down to the residence of Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi—who had accused him of duplicity in 2010—to strike a political deal to contest the elections. For the past 40 years, Patna’s political pugilist has survived and thrived by fighting the dynastic ethos of the Congress. Nitish and senior colleagues in the Janata Parivar have, in the past, used the choicest invectives against Sonia, Rahul and the Congress. It is indeed a paradox that on the eve of the 40th anniversary of the declaration of Emergency on June 25, 1975, the very same detainees of despotism are extending their hands of friendship to those whose party and family inflicted vicious wounds on individual liberty. Next week, leaders of all the factions of the Janata Parivar and Left parties are likely to conspire and confabulate on seat-sharing for the Assembly polls. They are flirting with each other, not for the purpose of providing an alternative model of good governance but with the only objective to put a brake on the Modi juggernaut in Bihar.
History repeats itself. In political history, new players who adopt the practices and slogans of the past are incarnated when power and populism intersect. Forty years ago, forces from the extreme Right to the extreme Left got together with the regional parties and coined the slogan ‘Indira Hatao, Desh Bachao (defeat Indira, save the nation)’. None of the Opposition stalwarts could tolerate the arrogance and the authoritarian style of PM Indira Gandhi. In the era she straddled, she was the last word in politics and governance. The Socialist parties and BJP (then known as Jan Sangh) were in her cross hairs. When they failed to mobilise enough public opinion against her, it was left to the somewhat somnolent social samaritan Jayaprakash Narayan from Bihar to wake up and lead the anti-Indira movement, which eventually led to the imposition of the Emergency, the merger of many parties causing the birth of the Janata Party, and the subsequent defeat of the Congress and Indira Gandhi herself in 1977. Since the new formation was not based on any definite ideology, it collapsed like ninepins soon after their target of removing Indira Gandhi from power was achieved.
A similar political adventurism is underway, but the playfield this time is Bihar, not India. In the eyes of his neo-secular enemies, Modi has replaced Indira. All the non-NDA parties have coalesced and conjured up the slogan: Modi Harao, Secularism Bachao (defeat Modi and save secularism). Instead of the BJP, it is PM Modi who poses a threat to their political future. They have convinced themselves that by trouncing the BJP in Bihar, they would be able to corrode Modimagic and erode his authority and confidence. The heroes of the Emergency—the BJP and Socialists—are now at war in Bihar. It is incongruous that villains of the Emergency, too, can be found in both camps. According to the latest indications, over a dozen diminutive political parties, including the Left, are likely to forge an alliance and put up common candidates against the BJP and its allies. While both factions are targeting fringe leaders like former CM Jitan Ram Manjhi and Pappu Yadav to maximise the caste matrix, anti-Modi forces have decided to set their sights on the PM. They feel the BJP is almost in a similar position as the Congress was under Indira Gandhi—if the tricolour party was a zero without Indira, the BJP without Modi is a high-powered SUV without an engine.
Like Gujarat was Modi’s laboratory to test and hone his administrative and political skills, his opponents have now converted Bihar into a high-tech tab to invent an antidote to Modi’s invincibility. Both Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav aren’t only engaged in social reengineering. They want to paint Modi as the villain of social harmony and a crusader championing crony capitalism. Lalu has gone to the extent of declaring he wouldn’t mind ingesting poison if it can defeat Modi in Bihar. According to the election strategy of the united Janata factions, they are going to beat the war drums, damning the opportunistic alliances made by the BJP in Kashmir and with Ram Vilas Paswan in Bihar. Additionally, the battle for the state is turning out to be a doppelgänger of the Delhi scenario. The Delhi Assembly contest was Kejriwal vs Modi, since no other BJP leader, including the parachute paragon Kiran Bedi, could come within miles of Kejriwal’s magnetism. In Patna too, it is going to be Modi vs Nitish Kumar. Taking advantage of the absence of any powerful local BJP leader, the anti-Modi phalanx deliberately chose Nitish as their gladiator to take on the BJP behemoth. Nitish may not have, of late, a credible track record of good governance like Modi, but he is considered to be the most powerful leader in Bihar for the moment. Moreover, all the parties backing him represent over 55 per cent of the total votes. In 2010, the BJP-JD(U) combine fought the Assembly elections together and won 206 seats out of a total of 243 and polled over 39 per cent of the votes. Now the JD(U), which had secured 22.58 per cent votes then, has decided to fight the BJP in cahoots with the Congress, the Left and RJD. Their total vote share was around 55 per cent in 2010. Even in the May 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the combined vote percentage of the anti-BJP parties was over 47 as against around 37 per cent garnered by the NDA. Bihar is not going to be a cakewalk for the BJP, since it has rarely fought an Assembly election without a powerful regional ally in the past 30 years. Modi could break caste and class barriers with his sheer appeal and charisma in the Lok Sabha polls. The voters of Bihar felt they had no alternative other than him to be the best man to rule from Delhi. With the BJP performing at below-expectation levels at the Centre, Modi’s detractors are projecting Nitish as the local alternative who can govern Bihar better than any state BJP leader who functions through remote control from Delhi.
The death of ideologies in Bihar has revived the unfinished battle for supremacy between the national icon Modi and the regional warrior Nitish Kumar. The outcome of the war in Pataliputra will lay the future contours of the road to Indraprastha.
Prabhuchawla@newindianexpress.com; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla