Monday, July 31, 2017

The cunning melancholy of Nitish Kumar

Ratnakar Tripathy

Nitish Kumar: strategic pessimism? 
There are several reasons why the political commentators of a liberal-progressive persuasion are hopping mad with Nitish Kumar. First, he as a fallen idol has come to be seen as the very ultimate in political betrayal. In times when the levels of political morality have fallen too low for anyone to voice sublime democratic ideals, the expectation was that a man with Nitish’s track record would stick to a simple promise made to the voters of Bihar, not to mention the commitment made to the alliance partner RJD. This may be the reason that most of the commentators seem to take a literary view of Nitish as a character from fiction that stands out for his utter lack of scruple. Far from the higher principles of public morality, Nitish is now seen as a back-stabber, as a perverse character seeking to damage, perhaps at some cost to himself his own mates and partners. Lalu and his son Tejaswi, and Rabridevi included have unleashed a rhetoric of righteous wrath that the better part of the press has swallowed hook, line and sinker. Whether Lalu or the press however cannot make up their minds if Nitish unleashed a complete surprise on RJD or his negotiations with the BJP had been going on awhile. They seem to say both without seeing any contradiction. Clearly, you cannot used expressions like ‘bombshell’ and ‘thunder strike’ as well as well as ‘conspiracy’ and ‘orchestrated plan’ to describe the actions of a man.

Second, Nitish has now transformed himself in a matter of days if not hours into a hope diminished, indeed a fond hope completely and decisively sunken. The progressive elements from large parts of India were hoping that the man would patiently stitch some semblance of an opposition to the BJP, some patchwork of a platform that one could pitch one’s hope on. Now that platform, that ground has slipped away from under the feet turning everyone furious at the act of great betrayal. In his first media interaction after returning as Chief Minister, Kumar said “I would always say I lead a small party and cannot have big national aspirations.” Nitish’s betrayal is thus seen not simply that of a friend or a partner but also of a likely savior. Nitish has however abdicated the status of a savior if his statement is to be taken seriously. Nitish also seems to convey the message that his shoulders are too frail to bear the tremendous onus of national politics in the time of Narendra Modi. How heartfelt this modesty is I am unable to tell. Or does he mean he wishes to contain his legendary arrogance within the confines of Bihar strictly?

Third, and this reason seems to me to be the chief one why everyone is so annoyed with Nitish. He has committed the sin of undermining what he sees as a false hope of getting all the rag tag political parties in one grand political formation. According to Nitish, the so-called opposition has a ‘reactive’ agenda, an anti-BJP stance and the fulminating rhetoric of a noisy and disgruntled crowd that has no core whether ideologically or organizationally. The Congress that could have formed an adhesive force is instead coming apart like a cracking spine incapable of holding the skeletal structure together. Much of Nitish’s gloom may be attributable to his decision to finally and decisively give up on the Congress. In many ways then, the reason why many commentators seem almost personal in their ire at Nitish is he has dared to attack our vain hope for a savior in the shape of a jingbang flock with no focus or clear purpose.

There is a reason why I feel grateful to Nitish for peeling our eyes en masse with a well-deserved harshness. I feel that the BJP in its present avatar plans to radically alter our political system by wrecking whatever democratic tradition we have built over the decades. Even worse, Modi’s regime is persistently corroding all our shared cultural norms by attacking us viscerally at the level of dress, diet, speech and even physical movement. I believe that the response to such well-orchestrated and well-oiled move deserves an equally radical and bold response. This is not about minor peeves and harassments. This is not even about someone molesting you in the street. It is about someone entering your house with the aim to turn you into a servile attendant. The BJP has managed to create an enormous anomie that is fast sucking out our moral and political energies and turning us into melancholic brooders incapable of any meaningful action. The BJP of today in brief requires an equally radical and bold response from the liberal-progressive stream. Nothing less would do.

If I feel grateful to Nitish for injecting some long awaited realism into the political discussions of today, I also look at him with disdain for claiming that Shri Narendra Modi has or will have “no challenger” in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. This claim gives me two messages – an arrogant one that Nitish may have been the only challenger if everyone concerned endorsed his leadership, and that we necessarily need a towering leader as an answer to Modi. Despite the overall leadership vacuum at the national level, we have many ‘small men’ ready to lead, the true strength of a democracy. I keep a close watch on them on a daily basis though this is no place to list them. So while Nitish sits on his development and corruption-free throne in Bihar dreaming of a colossus who will rescue him from a mess of his own making, I feel dread at the very idea. To dream of tall figures in the manner of ‘yada yada hi dharmasye’ [a la Shrimadbhagwat Gita] should be seen as an anathema in a democracy. To me small and determined men would do equally well or better. 

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