Politics and its norms have undergone a sea change. That was evident when Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar drove to Patna’s Raj Bhawan at 1.30am on 27 July, along with his supporter MLAs, and staked the claim for forming government in the state before Keshari Nath Tripathi, the elderly governor who is under treatment at Patna’s Indira Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences.
But this is not the first time democracy received a fatal blow past midnight. It was at the midnight of 25 July 1975 that the then prime minister Indira Gandhi had forced President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed to impose Emergency in the country. What happened in Patna, Bihar, is a smaller version of the events that had unfolded in Delhi, but it is no less dangerous for politics. Reason? In 2015, the people of Bihar had voted Nitish Kumar to power as the leader of the Grand Alliance, in which Lalu Prasad was major partner. The people’s mandate was to keep the BJP away from power.
After Nitish Kumar staked his claim for forming the government before Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi at 1.30am, Tejashwi Yadav marched to the Raj Bhawan at 2.30am to stake his claim. This dark phase in India’s democratic history began with Nitish Kumar turning up at Raj Bhawan at 6.30 pm on 26 July to submit his resignation as chief minister. What is interesting is that it took Prime Minister Narendra Modi just three minutes to congratulate Nitish Kumar on Twitter.
Claiming the moral high ground
After running the Government of Bihar in alliance with Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) for 20 months, Nitish Kumar resigned from chief ministership and launched a frontal attack on Tejashwi Yadav. He said that he could not go on any longer. Without naming Tejashwi, he said that had he resigned, his stature would have only grown.
Nitish is a murder accused: Lalu
Lalu hit back by holding a press conference in which he alleged that Nitish is an accused in the case of the murder of Pandarak at Badh in 1991, which is pending in the Patna High Court. He asked whether alleged corruption is a more serious charge than murder.
Democracy assaulted at midnight
Amid these charges and counter-charges, the governor gave Nitish the approval to form the new government. At 10 am on 27 July, Nitish again took over as the chief minister of Bihar.
Governor’s role under a cloud
Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi played a key role in the entire chain of events. Tejaswi had sought an appointment with the governor as the leader of the single largest party. Sources said that he was given an appointment for 11 am on 27 July. However, the governor administered the oath of office to Nitish Kumar at 10am instead of the earlier scheduled 5pm.
Challenges galore before Nitish Kumar
Nitish Kumar was sworn in as chief minister and Sushil Kumar Modi was sworn in as a member of his Cabinet. While Nitish does have the support of 131 MLAs, only 71 belong to his party. And among them too, at least two dozen were nominated by his party as candidates at Lalu’s recommendation and Lalu’s support base was crucial to their victory. Additionally, JD-U’s Muslim MLAs are also unhappy with Nitish’s decision to join hands with the BJP. JD-U Rajya Sabha MP Ali Anwar has already sounded the bugle of revolt. Sharad Yadav is also said to have deep reservations about Nitish’s decision to jump on the BJP bandwagon.
The first challenge before Nitish Kumar is to prove his majority on 28 July. The impending vice-presidential elections are also a challenge. Nitish Kumar has already pledged his support to the UPA candidate, but given the changed circumstances, will he stick to that decision? If he does, how it will affect his relations with the BJP remains to be seen.
But the biggest challenge for Nitish Kumar will emerge when the BJP will start implementing its agenda in Bihar. Nitish Kumar had boycotted events like the International Yoga Day and also flayed the BJP for lynchings in the name of gau raksha and atrocities against Dalits. On the other hand, Modi and Nitish Kumar hold similar views on demonetisation and GST.
Questions of morality and honesty
With Nitish Kumar switching loyalties overnight, intellectuals are questioning his morality and honesty. These questions are not entirely meaningless. But they cannot be directed only at Nitish Kumar; Lalu Prasad is also equally in the dock. Lalu, who is making the rounds of courts in connection with the fodder scam, cannot claim that the Centre is framing him. What he should ask himself is whether whatever he did was moral and ethical. He will also have to explain why he gave up the politics of social justice after winning the assembly polls.
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