Nitish Kumar has made his stand against communal politics one of the cornerstones of his appeal. But is the Bihar Chief Minister’s public posturing enough? Shouldn’t that be judged against his actions? What happens to Nitish Kumar’s claims when he extends a helping hand to a political process that seems to strengthen a Sangh-backed movement currently seeking national centrestage?
The problem with Ramdev is not that his movement is now aimed at the Congress, but whether the alternative he offers is viable or palatable. Ramdev made his intentions overtly clear when he declared two weeks ago: “Everybody is asking me about corruption in Gujarat, but I couldn’t find anything of this sort. Modi is not doing anything wrong... Ministers of the Congress-led UPA government have been in jail. Had the Gujarat Chief Minister also done anything wrong, he would have been put behind bars.” By this logic, no one in the Congress should be termed corrupt until he is behind bars. These words of Ramdev, delivered at an awards function at Ahmedabad on 29 July, had left even a section of Team Anna, which was holding its own fast then, completely rattled. Arvind Kejriwal hit out at Ramdev, saying: “People praise [Modi] for introducing development. Do you see him as the future of India?”
And yet when JD-U President Sharad Yadav was seen together with BJP Chief Nitin Gadkari sharing a stage with Ramdev on 13 August and asking the people to cast away the Congress in order to save the nation, the initial question that started doing the rounds in the political circles of Delhi was whether Nitish Kumar had given his nod to his party leader. Soon, however, the Bihar Chief Minister himself cleared the air when he said that he fully supported the movement of Ramdev. “Ramdevji is raising his voice for a right cause ... It is a subject of public interest and that is the reason why JD-U National President Sharad Yadav went to the dharna site ... I fully support Baba Ramdev’s movement,” he told mediapersons on the sidelines of his weekly Janata Darbar at Patna.
The game Nitish is playing is not new for the erstwhile followers of Lohia. Time and again, Lohiaites have let their opportunism get the better of their politics and have ended up strengthening communal politics in India. Whether it was the JP movement of the mid 1970s or VP Singh’s anti-Bofors agitation in the late 1980s, their opportunism won them a share in power, but in the long run only ended up working in favour of communal politics. The contradictions within ensured that neither of these movements was able to provide a viable long-term political alternative at the Centre. In the end, it was both the Congress and BJP and its antecedents who were the beneficiaries of both movements.
This is, however, not to say that the Congress, whether in the mid 1970s or late 1980s, had not laid the ground for popular public resentment, much in the same fashion it has done so now. The plethora of corruption charges against the Congress-led Government are not without basis. Indeed, the UPA Government, despite allegations of corruption that have stuck, has not made any attempt to take action that would show that it understands the gravity of the situation.
The Congress may not understand this, or perhaps it no longer has leaders who can gauge the public mood, but the Sangh senses an opportunity. The manner in which the RSS and its affiliates have activated their entire network in support of the Ramdev-Anna Hazare agitation is no secret. Nitish Kumar, who is himself a product of the JP movement, clearly understands this. A stance against corruption and black money is indeed a political position that any politician would like to take. But that position may not necessarily blind Nitish to the other major task he has taken upon himself—that of ensuring we do not see the kind of politics that threatened the country in the early 1990s. The Chief Minister of Bihar today has a choice: of taking on the mantle of battling the Congress, or repeating the mistakes of his Lohiaite predecessors by hiding behind the Sangh to win a battle and lose the war.