India’s great political cauldron has only just begun to heat up

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Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar

Principles, like most things in politics, are a matter of expediency. They have value only in the context of whether they are advantageous at a particular point. They are situational and not absolute.

There are no core principles in politics simply because they have to change in keeping with a changing core. India, the inventor of situational logic in everything in life, has routinely produced brilliant practitioners of situational logic. Take for instance the inevitable political realignment unfolding right now which has a direct bearing on the outcome of who could be India’s next prime minister in 2014.

There is a political party called the Janata Dal (United) or JD (U), whose foundational philosophy is socialistic, that rules the state of Bihar under its often cryptic but widely respected Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. For the past 17 years, Nitish Kumar’s party has been in political alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), whose foundational philosophy is rightwing Hindu nationalism. But for expediency there is not much that should have brought and kept the two together for that long. Incidentally, I do not use expediency as moral censure but acknowledge it as the operative reality of politics.

Now that the BJP has chosen to elevate Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi to be the head of its election management committee and, in popular perception, its likeliest choice for prime minister, Nitish Kumar’s party has chosen to break that alliance “over principles.” If you ever wanted to know how long it takes to discover principles, there is at least one precedent now. For some like Nitish Kumar it can take 17 years. Kumar and the JD (U) severely oppose the emergence of Narendra Modi as the public face of the BJP and by some implication a prospective candidate for prime minister on behalf of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) under which the JD (U) and the BJP had originally joined hands in 1996. (Excuse the complex relationships but I can not order those).

The JD (U) controls 20 seats in the Lok Sabha, the lower chamber of India’s parliament which decides who rules the country. In a country where there has been a dramatic splintering of the once monolithic political base controlled by the Congress Party, coalition is the name of the ruling game. And like in all coalitions it is those parties which control small but decisive numbers that come to exercise influence in excess of their electoral presence. It is from this standpoint that the newly unattached status of the JD (U) makes it a politically irresistible group for the Congress Party. The lure of someone else’s ex is potent in politics.

Although the BJP-JD (U) split was on the cards for a while, now that it has happened it ought to sober down the otherwise rambunctious supporters of Modi. But then no one in Indian politics thrives on partisan rejection with as much élan as Modi and by extension his legion of supporters. So no one should be surprised if this single-minded, self-absorbed politician sees the breakup as the clearest sign that the time for his own singular rise has arrived. Beyond all the complex machinations one simple fact is that Narendra Modi has got himself a fight on his hands that he is unlikely to forget. Apart from reminding him, if indeed he needs to be reminded, that India is not Gujarat and it will require a whole new way to position himself, even if it means diluting the cult of grandiosity that he has so successfully built up in his home state.

Of course, the breakup by itself does not necessarily mean that Modi will never become prime minister. What it means is that he will have to go back to the drawing board and re-mint himself in a way that expands his acceptability. There is only a slight problem with it. His detractors, which are many and have only grown with the JD (U) flooding those ranks, will do everything to undermine him.

India’s great political cauldron has only just begun to heat up. By the time the national elections are announced it would come to a boil. That’s when I will take the plunge in it.

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About chutiumsulfate

South Asians can infer from my name what I am. View all posts by chutiumsulfate

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