Intro : PM Modi’s remark over Political DNA of Nitish Kumar was mischievously misinterpreted by Nitish to capitalise on Bihari pride. The success of Parivartan rally and protest against Nitish Kumar in New Delhi has negated such attempt.
The ongoing debate on ‘DNA’ (deoxyribonucleic acid in medical parlance) at public and social media platforms is not about the genetics of any individual, much less about hereditary characteristic of Biharis, as Chief Minister Nitish Kumar would have us believe.
It is about probity in public life and characteristics displayed by politicians at a time when millions of Biharis are waiting to elect a new government that facilitate for them a better life.
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi referred to Kumar’s “political DNA” at his ‘Parivartan rally’ at Muzaffarpur in north Bihar on July 25, he was clearly referring to the moral fibre and etiquette of civil conduct that is expected of a senior politician that is Kumar.
And there is a bit of history to the allusion made by the Prime Minister. On June 12, 2010, when the entire BJP national leadership was in Patna to hold its national executive in NDA-ruled Bihar, Kumar suddenly cancelled a dinner he was hosting for BJP leaders.
Why? Merely because a hoarding released by a private individual in parts of Patna to coincide with the BJP meet showed him holding hands with the then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi!
It can be revealed now that an irate Nitish Kumar, who perhaps thought being seen with Modi would rob him of his perceived Muslim support in Bihar, had put forth the condition that he would host the BJP leaders but only to the exclusion of Modi.
But the BJP leadership rejected the conditional offer, pointing out Modi was Chief Minister of a BJP ruled State and had to be treated with the respect and courtesy due to a person of his stature. So, the dinner didn’t happen.
In a country that goes by the motto, ‘Atithi Devo Bhawah’, or “guest is like god”, Kumar’s display of personal animus towards fellow Chief Minister Modi perhaps has no parallel in India’s history of political conduct.
Here, we have the widely accepted practice of politicians of adversarial ideological persuasions having a good laugh together and back-slapping each other after being at each other’s throat while at work inside legislatures.
Kumar ought to have known better, considering all he owes to the BJP and its leaders.
A close ally of (now RJD president) Lalu Prasad Yadav, when the latter first became Bihar’s Chief Minister in 1990, Kumar gave him the royal ditch by breaking away from the Janata Dal to form the Samata Party in 1994, with socialist leader George Fernandes.
The Samata Party contested 315 out of 324 Bihar Assembly seats (at the time) in the 1995 State Assembly election, being certain it would be swept to office. Lalu won the election, securing his first ever majority. Nitish’s Samata ended up with just seven seats.
So, it was an electorally emaciated Kumar who turned up a BJP conference in Mumbai in November 1995 to search for an electoral alliance which materialised in the 1996 Lok Sabha poll.
It is a matter of record that each and every stint in power, Kumar has enjoyed from that time till date has been facilitated by the BJP. Under Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee he served as Minister of Railways, Minister for Surface Transport and Minister for Agriculture, between March 1998 and May 2004.
He became Chief Minister of Bihar for a week in March 2000 and thereafter from November 2005 till May 2014, each time with the backing of the BJP.
Only, this time Kumar’s return as Chief Minister on February 22 this year, after dislodging dalit Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi, was not accomplished with BJP support. But then, this time, Kumar came back without a popular mandate, by securing RJD and Congress support.
After enjoying the perks of power over many years solely because of BJP backing, Kumar, just as he had ditched his friend Lalu Prasad in 1994, suddenly broke-off with the BJP in June 2013.
It appeared to be a harsh decision, somewhat lacking in sound logic: With the ouster of the BJP, Kumar had lost majority support in the Bihar Assembly. If his government survived in office, it was only with the support of rivals, the RJD and Congress.
But, in his own mind, Kumar’s reasoning was cool and calculated. He was nursing prime ministerial ambitions and was hoping that a crisis of leadership in the BJP would catapult him to the slot of the NDA’s PM nominee for the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
But the then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s elevation as the campaign chief of the BJP, at the Goa conclave of the BJP in early June, 2013, slotting him as NDA’s PM nominee, dashed Kumar’s PM dreams.
As such, he broke-off with the BJP, citing the party’s alleged takeover by hardliners as the cause. He was counting on his emergence as the leader of an anti-BJP front and his slotting as its PM nominee. The play ended in disaster. Piloting the JD (U) all on his own, Kumar ended up delivering just two out of 40 Lok Sabha seats in Bihar for his party in the May 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Riding Narendra Modi-powered campaign, BJP-led NDA ended up
with 31. And then, in mid-June last year, about a month after the rout and after having quit as CM on May 17 in the wake of the JD (U)’s Lok Sabha polls rout, Kumar was knocking at the door of Lalu Prasad, his arch enemy of previous two decades.
Faced with the imminent defeat of two JD (U) candidates in the biennial election to the Rajya Sabha on June 19, 2014, Kumar, as Lalu so inimitably put at the time, “fell to his feet” to request the support of 22 RJD MLAs to ensure victory for his nominees.
The irony of this was too great for anyone to miss. Here was Nitish Kumar, who had been voted to office along with the BJP in November 2005 on the promise of ending Lalu’s 15 years (1990-2005) of ‘jungle raj’ , was going for help to one responsible for it.
Kumar had made a political career out of anti-Congressism, following in the footsteps of his late father, Kaviraj Ram Lakhan Singh, an ayurvedic practitioner of repute, who had declared himself vehemently opposed to the party in the 1950s.
Yet, Kumar had no qualms about going and meeting Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi at the latter’s New Delhi residence in June to facilitate a likely electoral deal for the coming Bihar Assembly polls.
Ideological questions apart, the move appeared ‘unethical’ in that the motive behind it was not just to spite the BJP, a party from which he had gained so much over so many years, but also to ‘browbeat’ Lalu Prasad into accepting him as Chief Minister face of the anti-BJP alliance.
Who would have thought self-confessed Lohiaites and followers of late Jaya Prakash Narayan, the great leader of the 1974 Bihar movement, would end up cosying up to the Congress, a party to which Dr Lohia and Jaya Prakash were so vehemently opposed.
Again, who would have thought the man having pretensions of being ‘destroyer’ of Lalu’s ‘jungle raj’ in Bihar will end up tango-ing with the perpetrator of the abysmal law and order situation that categorised the RJD rule.
It is such sly shiftiness marking political conduct that makes a strong case for examining the “political DNA” of the political class, especially of those leaders who aspire to continue ruling Bihar or hoping to return to that slot.
For Nitish Kumar to apportion a reference to his ‘political DNA’, to the DNA of all Biharis, out of a mischievous misinterpretation, is reminiscent of the late Dev Kant Barooah’s infamous ‘Indira is India’ play.
For Nitish Kumar to say any reference to his political conduct is an affront to all Biharis smacks of what the BJP has been accusing him all along: unbridled arrogance.
RK Sinha (The writer is Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha)