A Chanakya Reborn

Raman Swamy

In a book titled "Single Man: The Life and Times of Nitish Kumar", there is a quotation which seems to capture the essence of one of the country's most ambitious politicians—"I shall get power, by hook or by crook, but once I have got power I will do good work".

At the present moment, Nitish Kumar is very much in power as the Chief Minister of Bihar. In fact, this is technically his fourth term in office since November 2005 (not counting the time when he had to quit within seven days in 2000 because he could not cobble up enough support in the Assembly).

But the wily Janata Dal (United) leader is at it again—playing politics as only he knows how, by hook and by crook. Astonishingly, he appears to be busy plotting the downfall of his own coalition government with the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress.

Like a modern-day Chanakya, he is using devious methods to achieve his objective, which is ensure that he remains the Chief Minister with a new partner immediately and seamlessly after getting rid of his current bed-fellows.

Most Bihar-watchers were aware that Nitish had begun making his moves months ago to break free from dependence on the RJD, which actually has more elected MLAs than his own party, the JD(U). They knew it was only a matter of time before he came out in the open and till then he would work behind the scenes with stealth and cunning.

The presidential elections provided Nitish the opportunity to play his cards and reveal his intentions. His sudden announcement that he had decided to support the BJP's nominee Ramnath Kovind was so well timed that, to all appearances, it seemed to take all the other Opposition parties by surprise and dashed their hopes of projecting solid unity among anti-BJP parties by fielding a credible candidate of their own.

In fact, it was not really a bolt from the blue—the Lalu Yadav political clan knew full well, or at least should have known, that their alliance partner has been looking for ways to dissolve the marriage with minimal co-lateral damage to himself.

For weeks BJP leaders in the State have been whipping up a sustained campaign to rake up charges of suspicious financial dealings by Lalu and his close family members. Many of the allegations were regarding old and pending cases but what was new was that certain documents were being flourished as fresh evidence. The gossip mill in Patna was buzzing with whispers that someone in the Nitish administration had a hand in digging out documents from government files.

Sushil Modi, senior BJP leader and former Deputy Chief Minister, has now given credence to the rumours. Speaking with refreshing candour he has said in an interview : "I cannot tell you the name-but yes, we could not have sustained this expose about benami properties for over 80 days without the help of JD(U) leaders. The income tax department would not have started investigations unless we gave them documentary evidence. All I can say is that some of the documents we got were from inside the government. Otherwise it is very difficult to get access to the files".

For political players in Bihar, who are by reputation perhaps more astute and canny than anywhere else, there is nothing more that needs to be said. They are familiar with Nilish Kumar and his methods.

Once, when asked who his political mentors were, Nitish Kumar replied that he had the privilege of learning the ropes under many stalwarts of the past—Satya Narain Sinha, Karpuri Thakur, Ram Manohar Lohia, Jaya-prakash Narayan and V P Singh.

.ut what he did not say was that his ambition is to eventually achieve more than any of them. Apart from his many stints as Chief Minister, he has had six terms as a Lok Sabha member and has been a Union Minister too. His ambition has always been to become the Prime Minister one day and has often come frustratingly close to being chosen as a candidate for the cherished post.

Even now, his associates say, he has not given up on that dream even though the present political situation does not seem conducive. If he breaks from the ranks of the Opposition parties in the context of the Kovind versus Meira Kumar contest, it would probably permanently put paid to his ultimate ambition. If he joins hands with the BJP—which it needs to be stressed has still not yet happened—he would effectively accepting a role subservient to Narendra Modi, who was at one time the man he loved to hate the most.

But Nitish considers himself a gambler who always gets what he wants. In his own eyes he is Chanakya reborn. That may now be a pipe-dream but for now he has kept his many friends and foes guessing.

[It was written before Nitish Kumar’s resignation and his new innigns with BJP]


Vol. 50, No.5, Aug 6 - 12, 2017