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Bihar’s November Rain?

Nitish Kumar has been all praise for the demonetisation even though his ally Laloo has been criticising it. Is a realignment on the cards?
Nitish Kumar has been all praise for the demonetisation even though his ally Laloo has been criticising it. Is a realignment on the cards?

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is the singular exception to the list of opposition politicians who have opposed the demonetisation announced by Prime Minster Narendra Modi. Even as his ally, Rashtriya Janata Dal president Laloo Prasad Yadav, has spoken strongly against the demonetisation as a slap on the poor and the backward, Nitish has praised Modi for “riding a tiger” and there’s great sentiment in favour of the demonetisation.

Until recently, every right-thinking human being had opposed the blanket draconian provisions of the Prohibition law that Nitish had brought in to fulfil his election promise. Reports spoke of entire families being put into jail for violating the law.

The demonetisation seems to have come as a godsend, and also his choice of praising the entire opposition’s bete noire, Narendra Modi. Instead of joining the queue that has been speaking for the discomfort of the people, and the number of people who have died in the queue outside banks or ATMs, Nitish has said he will point to benami properties next.

Despite being schooled in the Janata nursery in the 70s, Hobson’s choice got Nitish back with Laloo for the 2015 Bihar Assembly elections. With the express aim of denying the BJP a clean sweep of the non-UP Indo-Gangetic plains, Nitish had no option but to tie up with Laloo, who cannot contest elections for his criminal record as a result of fodder scam bribery.

They may have been friends, they may have been foes, but in 2015 the RJD provided the engine with its access to the Yadav-Muslim votebank on which Nitish scripted his victory that caused the Modi wave to evaporate in Patna. This is despite the misadventure of evicting Jitan Ram Manjhi, the Dalit Chief Minister who had been handpicked by Nitish to replace him, when he quit taking the blame for the party’s disappointing show in 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

In the current Bihar Assembly of 243 members, Nitish’s Janata Dal United has 71 seats, the RJD 80, the BJP 53 and the Congress 27. Even if Nitish chooses to leave the mahagathbandhan and partner the BJP, an old ally and now foe, he still will be safe with 124 MLAs.

What is the Bihar CM’s next move? The feints don’t point at the rupturing of the mahagathbandhan. Because it’s a Hobson’s choice for Laloo. He can’t pull out, at least not yet, since no other political force can give him the legitimacy of power like Nitish can. His sons are still learning the ropes, or, at least, are meant to.

Novembers are cold along the Ganga, and Bihar has had eventful political Novembers. Is pro-development Nitish warming up to a saffron shawl?

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