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‘Paltiputra, limitations of Mandal’: Editorials on the Patna powershift

Nitish Kumar has switched sides again, with his fifth crossover in around a decade set to mark his ninth as the Bihar chief minister.

It’s not just the timing of Kumar’s switch, which comes months before a reinvigorated NDA alliance contests the Lok  Sabha polls against regional parties and whatever remains of the INDIA alliance. Most saw it as a devastating blow to the INDIA alliance, some saw it as a weakening of caste politics while others claimed that this somersault will undermine Kumar’s own party, the JD(U).

Editorials in English dailies also had a word of caution. 

The Indian Express noted that “it may be more useful in this moment to look beyond” Kumar. “For all his dramatic somersaults, Nitish is not the hero of this story whose central theme, and question, is this: In the face of a dominant Hindutva, and a Mandir politics that is aggressively Mandalising itself, what does the politics of social justice mean, what is its USP? What happens, going ahead, to the erstwhile flag-bearers of Mandal? Nitish’s political promiscuity in Bihar underlines the vulnerability of Mandal forces in Bihar and elsewhere, if they are not able to add layers to their core pitch, if they continue to rely only on bare-knuckled caste math, if they don’t join it to vocabularies of governance. Because Nitish’s nth switch in Bihar points, most of all, to an RJD that, despite the seminal political achievements of Lalu Yadav, is looking unprepared for the future”

The Hindu, in an editorial about Kumar on Saturday, pointed to the “Opposition block”.

“Except for closed door meetings followed by press conferences, the INDIA bloc has not had any big public outreach programme since its formation seven months ago in Patna. Time is running out and there is no clarity on when the bloc will be able to seal the division of seats among its constituents. The alliance is staring at a crisis in the battle of perception and in building a robust structure for a joint campaign or election strategy. The initial euphoria had blinded the parties to the political peculiarities in each State, and the ambitions and fears of regional leaders that soon began to emerge.” 

“It is still possible that partial seat sharing arrangements depending on tactical considerations in individual States might still emerge, but any programmatic national alliance against the BJP seems to be out of reach.”

In an editorial headlined “INDIA not shining”, the Times of India said “INDIA co-founder Nitish, reading chai-leaves, found INDIA wintry cold to his PM ambitions, and an Ayodhya glow on all things poll-oriented”. “Nitish is known to jump ship the moment political seas turn choppy. At one level, it’s unsurprising he’d go all-out to grab electoral dividends the twin events promise,” it said, referring to the overall shaky seat-sharing talks coinciding with the Ayodhya spectacle and recognition of socialist Karpoori Thakur.

“INDIA was never on terra firma, but now it’s on quicksand. Pre-electoral alliances are important to winning seats. BJP though in a commanding position leaves no ground uncovered in the voter market, still tying up with smallest of parties to plug gaps in voter coverage. Lalu’s RJD in Bihar, and Akhilesh Yadav’s SP in UP have failed to counter campaigns that keep alive Yadavs’ ‘jungle raj’ history. Nitish was the bridge to lower-OBC, Dalit vote shares in Bihar, with spillover effect in neighbouring states as an INDIA ally. That bridge has collapsed.”

Deccan Herald also pointed out that Kumar’s exit will diminish the opposition alliance. “There is no other senior politician in the country who has shifted sides so often. The BJP grabbed the opportunity, conferring the Bharat Ratna on Karpoori Thakur, which gave Nitish Kumar a talking point. Many politicians live for the moment and make the best of what is on offer and what is possible at the moment. Nitish Kumar has epitomised that brand of cynical and opportunistic politics. Even when it is true that there are no permanent friends or foes in politics, the politics practised by him is of an extreme kind. It has stymied his reputation in other respects, especially as an administrator.”

The Telegraph referred to the chief minister as “Pataliputra’s paltiputra”, whose “chameleon-like skills have made him a deserving candidate for such epithets”. “This despite Amit Shah’s ‘firm’ statement that the NDA’s doors had been shut for Mr Kumar. Mr Kumar, on his part, had said he would prefer to die than return to the BJP. During his stints with the Bihar Mahagathbandhan, Mr Kumar made several antagonistic noises against the BJP.” 

“Ironically, with Mr Kumar’s chief ministership now completely dependent on the BJP’s whims, the elbow room that Mr Kumar could have managed in INDIA would elude him in the NDA, reducing his political clout further. Mr Kumar’s opportunism has already had a deleterious effect on his party that was reduced to the third force in Bihar in the last assembly polls. It is possible that the JD(U)’s political footprint would get lighter in Bihar — he could even bespatter the NDA’s performance.”

“INDIA, undoubtedly, has received a blow with Mr Kumar’s exit, especially in the war on perception. But adversity often presents a window of opportunity. The Rashtriya Janata Dal, the party that won the highest number of seats in 2020, now free of the burden called Mr Kumar, could lead the charge in Bihar on behalf of the Opposition, attempting to widen its reach beyond the Yadav-Muslim vote banks. Mamata Banerjee, who was circumspect about Mr Kumar’s commitment to INDIA, may not be too disappointed either: she now has an opportunity to bargain for a bigger role within the alliance which, after Mr Kumar’s antics, would want to close ranks. That is the need of the hour.”

This report has been published with AI assistance.

Newslaundry is a reader-supported, ad-free, independent news outlet based out of New Delhi. Support their journalism, here.

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