Nitish was able to make his 'resignation' look like it was over the issue of corruption. That will make it (corruption) the dominant narrative again, sidelining other issues like the economy or the spate of recent lynchings. Photograph: (Zee News Network)
The revival of the issue of corruption -- that is why Nitish resigned, ostensibly -- will take the breath out of the Opposition for the time being
End of Mahagathbandhan was expected but not the sudden exit of Nitish Kumar who took a moral high ground on the issue of corruption. His act of resignation on the principle of probity not only helps him to set aside the charge of having struck a deal with tainted Laloo, but also revives the issue of corruption against the Opposition. Patna will see new power partnering with JDU but the revival of the issue of corruption will take the breath away from the Opposition for the time.
This development was accompanied by Prime Minister Modi tweeting and congratulating the Bihar Chief Minister for taking a stand against corruption. This is a signal that the PM intends to revive the issue again closer to the election times, using it effectively against prominent Opposition faces in different parties. It will help to blunt the Opposition’s campaign against Modi on several fronts. This development will also bring to a grind Congress's grand plan of building a grand alliance against Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It also brings BJP and JDU together, putting a spanner in the Opposition’s plan to counter BJP in the Hindi heartland during national elections. The thinking was that BJP will not be able to repeat its performance again but with Nitish, the BJP’s vote will consolidate further.
Many would say that Nitish Kumar is a political shapeshifter, and he is being opportunistic. However, in politics, there are no permanent enemies or friends. It also reflects the reduced strength of the Congress to influence decision-making at the regional level. The decision would put further pressure on the Congress to explain its position on the issues of corruption that are plaguing the political system.
It is not without reason that Nitish Kumar mentioned Rahul Gandhi’s name in the press conference. Rahul Gandhi tore the ordinance before the Lok Sabha elections, embarrassing then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the issue of corruption. It ended Laloo’s political career but on the issue of Bihar’s deputy chief minister and Laloo’s son Tejashwi Yadav, he came across taking a different political stand. One will have to wait and see as to how many Congress MLAs would remain with the party at the state level. Chances are high that the numerical strength of the Congress party will be further eroded in the legislature.
For Laloo, it is going to be a lonely walk in the national politics. He might receive support from other political parties but in the long run, he may run out of support as corruption will again become a dominant narrative as opposed to lynching and economic issues. But the biggest worry for the Opposition should be that they will not have a Prime Ministerial face in 2019. Nitish was being touted as a political face who could have united various regional satraps. Under the circumstances, however, the only option for the regional parties would be to push Rahul Gandhi on the Centre stage which in today’s scenario is not a viable option as the party might not be able to create a consensus around his name.
The net gainer in the current scenario remains Nitish Kumar. He has not only dumped the incumbency of his tenure on the RJD but has also come out unscathed and reinvented himself by taking a position on the issue of corruption. RJD will only have the option of launching a personal attack against Nitish. But all such attacks usually have a limited time span.
Lastly, the current development should also be food for thought for the Congress Party. Congress has been after alliance building from state to state. For instance, in Bihar, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh. The sole motive of these alliances is to defeat Bhartiya Janta Party. So far, it has been unsuccessful to reap political benefits of the alliance except in Bihar. The Congress, therefore, needs to introspect about its shrinking strength and BJP’s ability to sideline the grand old party through maneuvering political developments in the states. Rather than finding purpose in defeating BJP, the Congress needs to rebuild itself. The wait can be long but the return would be meaningful and lasting.