'The only thing that makes Nitish Kumar acceptable to Biharis, to the Mahagatbandhan allies, is the BJP.'
Even though the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation, which won 12 out of the 19 seats it contested in the 2020 Bihar assembly election, has decided to stay out of the Mahagatbandhan government forged together by Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal-United and the Rashtriya Janata Dal after the JD-U quit the National Democratic Alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party, CPI (ML) General Secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya says that it will play the role of bridge between the government and the aspirations of those making up the grassroots in Bihar.
In the first of an exclusive three-part interview with Prasanna D Zore/Rediff.com, Bhattacharya explains why Nitish Kumar -- despite all the name-calling by the BJP and RJD at different times -- is still such a binding force in Bihar's politics.
How will you critique the JD-U-BJP's 18-month governance in Bihar? Were they successful in fulfilling their poll promises?
Certainly not. In fact, the BJP was basically trying to set up its Bihar (Hindutva) Laboratory by keeping the gun on Nitish Kumar's shoulders.
The BJP has been keen on turning Bihar into another UP. More so, after their renewed victory in UP there was a clamour for a BJP chief minister in Bihar and a replication of bulldozer kind of governance model here.
That's what made Nitish Kumar's whole arrangement with the BJP untenable and he had to quit.
In those 18 months, the crime graph was growing; nothing really happened on their promised 19 lakh jobs; and all that the central government could bring in was the Agnipath scheme which has very adverse implication for Bihar's youth, and they have been very angry.
The people were angry with the Nitish-(Narendra Damodardas) Modi government -- which they called a double engine government -- so people were angry with both the engines.
That's how the last 18 months were wasted. The people are now looking forward to see how this new government actually manages to deliver.
Having said that, the BJP was trying to institute a one-party system in Bihar. Every now and then, Amit Shah (the Union home minister) says, we are here to rule for four-five decades; On July 30-31, the BJP had a big national event in Patna where BJP President Jagat Prakash Naddda said the time for regional parties is up, their relevance is over, and very soon there will be only one party -- the BJP -- left in India.
The BJP believes that no other party has any reason to exist. Nadda chose to make this statement in a state where they are running the government in alliance with a regional party.
Earlier, Mukesh Sahni's Vikassheel Insaan Party (VIP), a smaller party representing one of Bihar's extreme backward castes, was part of the NDA alliance. Sahni was a minister. The BJP gobbled up the VIP's three MLAs and Sahni was thrown out of the cabinet.
The BJP has already been serving notice to its regional allies and its level of political aggression has gone to an altogether new level.
First they started implicating and arresting individual activists like human rights activists in the Bhima Koregaon case, concocted 2020 Delhi riots cases, arrested anti-CAA protestors.
Opposition-ruled governments were destabilised with alarming regularity.
So, the last 18 months were not at all about Nitish Kumar? There was nothing worthwhile he seems to have done in Bihar as its chief minister?
Nitish Kumar was with the BJP, and the BJP completely hijacked the governance agenda. He has said it was difficult working with such an alliance partner.
In the (Bihar) assembly we saw Nitish Kumar openly arguing with the speaker (Vijay Kumar Sinha of the BJP against whom the JD-U-RJD government has now proposed a no-trust vote), who behaved like a super administrator.
We saw the government in conflict with itself and collapsing from within, and it was becoming untenable.
If Nitish Kumar was finding it difficult with the BJP since the last 18 months, he also found it difficult to get along with Tejashwi Yadav between 2015 and 2017 when the JD-U and RJD formed a Grand Alliance government.
With such distrust among the alliance partners, then and now, how do you think the Mahagatbandhan will work for the betterment of Bihar?
Nitish Kumar has now openly said that it (his alliance with BJP) was a mistake on his part.
Now, the situation has changed (after Nitish Kumar quit the alliance with the BJP and became part of the Mahagatbandhan). But for the BJP all other parties are supporting this government (164 in support against BJP's 77 in the 243-member assembly).
This government has no crisis of numbers. That's why we have decided to support it from outside. We want the government to issue a common minimum programme because the RJD and our alliance in the 2020 (assembly) election had a manifesto.
Nitish Kumar and the BJP had a different manifesto dictated by the BJP. So, the new government should have its own manifesto and some common minimum programme should be worked out.
There should also be coordination and monitoring committees for collective decision-making and implementation of government strategy like we had in the UPA.
But what is the guarantee that Nitish Kumar will not flip flop again? How can political parties in Bihar, despite so many flip-flops by Nitish Kumar, still trust him? That is what the people of Bihar and India would want to understand.
Whatever is happening in Bihar (the coming together of the Mahagatbandhan with Nitish Kumar as its chief minister) is not about (trusting) Nitish Kumar. It is basically about the BJP's power-hungry, political aggression; of the BJP's desire to arrogate all powers to itself, to emerge as a single political party, ruling party across India.
It is this dynamic which has actually caused the present political changeover in Bihar. Otherwise, Nitish Kumar is the oldest ally of the BJP and he has now parted twice with the BJP. One was in 2013 and then in 2017 he again went to them.
Now, he says that going back to the BJP and NDA fold was a mistake on his part. He now thinks that he should have waited and given the JD-)-RJD government more time.
That's what he is saying now.
Since Nitish Kumar has changed his allegiance so many times, it is natural for people to doubt (him). But then there is no guarantee in politics. You always look at the things in moments -- here and now.
So, when we talk of here and now, the only thing that makes Nitish Kumar acceptable to Biharis, to the Mahagatbandhan allies, is the BJP. It is the way in which BJP wants to finish off all regional parties and use Bihar as its (Hindutva) Laboratory.
For the BJP, Nitish is a use-and-throw politician. For the BJP, his use was now over and it was looking for opportunities to throw him away.
It is the BJP which compelled Nitish Kumar to quit and look for an alternative arrangement. And this (the Mahagatbandhan with the RJD, Congress and other smaller political parties) has been the most viable alternative arrangement at the moment.
- Part II: 'Biharis Stopped BJP's Bulldozer'