Simultaneous with being a part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, Bihar chief minister and Janata Dal (U) leader Nitish Kumar has of late been particularly active with moves that taunt the Sangh Parivar and the ruling front. Nitish's first salvo was fired with a demand for an inquiry into the Pegasus spyware case. And the BJP remained stubborn till the end of the monsoon session of Parliament that no discussion would be allowed on that subject. When the BJP came up with a tactical stand on the reservation, of granting 27 per cent to OBC's and ten per cent to Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) of forward castes, with eyes set on the upcoming assembly elections, Nitish jumped the gun with a demand for a caste census. To this end, he led a delegation to Delhi with that demand taking along a team including his bete noire in state politics, the young heir of Rashtriya Janata Dal. The clamour for caste census has its genesis in the plaint that even as caste and religion do not get acknowledged and accounted for in public, both become means of ditching the minorities in socio-economic realms and power politics. Although it is a demand that cannot be immediately rejected or fully accepted, the Central government has taken the stance that it is not ready for it as yet. True, all parties of an alliance need not share the same position on all the issues. Still, when an Opposition attack reaches a stage of putting the ruling front in crisis, the norm is for allies to remain silent even when they won't go to offer a solid defence. But what Nitish did was a step further by making overtures that validate the Opposition's allegations and demands, a move that has roused curiosity in political circles.
Bihar's ruling alliance is led by JD(U) which has 43 seats with the backing of the BJP that has 74 seats in the assembly. But that has not stopped Nitish Kumar from adopting a one-upmanship approach of embarrassing the BJP for quite some time. As for the BJP, right from start, it has been putting Nitish, whose sole goal is to wield power, in the trap of authority. But the discontent that had started at the time of cabinet formation intensified. In the meantime, some BJP MLAs demanded that Nitish be removed from the chief minister's post. So far, Nitish has been giving in to BJP's demands since he could not make his party's performance so good as to have bargaining strength with BJP. On the other hand, the BJP is using its unquestionable dominance at the Centre as an opportunity to strangulate regional parties including that of Nitish. On another front, he is also able to see those who wriggled themselves out of the BJP front, like the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, using the opportunity in a smart manner. It is perhaps due to these factors that he has many a time shown unwillingness to remain steadfast with the BJP on many occasions. Hence, his recent game has looked as if it is better to turn a nuisance and get out of the BJP rut than to remain a loyal follower and partner of the Hindutva brigade.
His attempt is to switch loyalty with reasons that would appear other than of his own making. And the same was his message in leading an all-party delegation of ten different political parties of the state demanding caste-based census before Prime Minister Narendra Modi. If all this raises the question why he has made these moves, the answer to that has come from JD(U) the other day: the party's national council passed a resolution that Nitish Kumar, who has ruled as Bihar chief minister for the longest period after SK Sinha, has every claim to become the prime minister of India too. All the same, he has behaved as if he were willing to wound but afraid to strike, in the attempt to become the prime minister. Anyway, his party is making its stand clear that their leader, who has hoisted the tricolour on Independence Day in Bihar 15 times, is harbouring a longing in his heart of raising it in the Red Fort. With the BJP actively pursuing Hindutva politics, and the Congress in the fray to make capital out of its soft version, the card that would suit him to play to win the Centre is of socialism and the love of backward classes. And that is a lesson on which Nitish, as a leader who rose from the sound and smoke of Mandal Commission, needs no lecture. And hence his coming forward to rub the nose of the BJP. At any rate, the new gambling games of the 'Sushasan Babu' of Bihar politics would only speak for the degree and extent of the 'principle-based' stances of political leaders, and with what game-plan in mind.