Bharat Bhushan: Will Bihar Curb BJP’s arrogance?

The loss of its coalition government with Janata Dal (United) in the state of Bihar underlines the shortcomings of the Bharatiya Janata party’s (BJP’s) newfound strategy of paramountcy. It earlier targeted only Opposition parties but now even its allies are not safe. Its increasing sense of entitlement manifests itself as greater disrespect towards other political forces.

At one level, what happened in Bihar was simply a defensive move by JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar. He feared his party might be split like the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, by using a renegade party leader, RCP Singh. Suspecting Singh’s motives, Nitish Kumar denied him re-nomination to the Rajya Sabha, bringing his stint as minister in the Modi government to an abrupt end. It might  not have been difficult for the moneybags of the ruling dispensation at the Centre to split half of the JD(U) legislative party and buy up some legislators from the Congress (another party ripe for poaching in Bihar).

Only the BJP’s hubris and its drive for complete political control can explain why it would allow doubts to be created in the mind of a grateful ally like the JD(U). To explain the Bihar developments as arising from Nitish Kumar’s presumed ambitions for 2024 is to ignore the part played by the BJP’s arrogance and overweening ambition.

The BJP did keep its promise to its ally in November 2020 by appointing Nitish Kumar as the Chief Minister– although the JD(U) won only 45 seats to BJP’s 77. Perhaps the BJP felt it could easily control an electorally diminished Nitish Kumar. However, it also kept him under constant pressure, which he has recently described as “suffocating”.

The BJP’s choice of Vijay Kumar Sinha as Speaker of the House did not sit well with the Chief Minister. There were several spats between Nitish Kumar and Sinha on the floor of the house and also between the Speaker and the government. After one such altercation in the House, Sinha did not come to the assembly till the Chief Minister went to his residence to persuade him. Despite Nitish Kumar’s urging, the BJP refused to change the Speaker, as if it wanted to keep the Bihar government destabilised.

Even as Nitish Kumar made his pre-emptive move to avoid a Maharashtra-like strike against himself, the Speaker swung into action despite having claimed he was Covid positive on Sunday August 7.  On Monday August 8 he suddenly turned “Covid negative”. The first item on the agenda was a report of the Ethics Committee of the Bihar Assembly criticising those who had held the Speaker “hostage” in March 2021, when the police had to be called into the assembly. It was speculated that based on this report Sinha would  disqualify 18 of the 79 legislators of the RJD. That would have made it impossible for Nitish Kumar to form an alternative government with RJD and others as he subsequently did. However, Nitish outmanoeuvred Sinha, as within hours of submitting his resignation letter, he presented his case for forming a new government. The rest is history.

Did the BJP not see the consequences of its constant undermining of the BJP–JD(U) coalition government? Was it perhaps blinded by the success of its own power play in other states where it has manipulated discontented elements in rival parties and engineered splits to form its own governments. Has such arrogance become habitual for the party?

Exposure to power for eight years has clearly gone to its head. The arrogant belief that the BJP is entitled to be in power has long been evident in the Northeast where political leaders and entire parties have been induced to form governments with a BJP-label. This power play was also evident in Goa in February 2017, in Madhya Pradesh in March 2020 and, most recently, in Maharashtra. Not only did Uddhav Thackeray have to be punished for not playing along but it also had to be done with dramatic flair, by the party’s narcissistic Chanakyas, who seem to see public life only as a forum for power play and to draw attention to their “cleverness”.

The BJP’s overweening arrogance is not only visible in the way it has tried to erase the memory of former rulers by renaming places and institutions and building a new Parliament and Central Vista. It is also visible in the chutzpah of its  district level functionary who extended his residence to encroach on common green space of a housing society in Noida, turning it into a private lawn by planting bottle-palms around it. Both mark territory to display power and ownership. The same arrogance manifests itself in a minister in Uttar Pradesh who was found guilty of illegal possession of a rifle and who snatched the court order file from the Registrar of the Court and ran away with it. Its small-time functionary in Madhya Pradesh’s Rewa, felt entitled to trash the shop of an army veteran and thrash him.

What but hubris prompts BJP president J P Nadda to announce that soon all other political parties will vanish and only the BJP will remain? It allows BJP’s Suvendu Adhikary to assert that the Mamata Banerjee government in West Bengal will not last beyond December this year. The BJP’s belief that all other political parties are disposable entities has already cost the party dear. Its one-time allies from the Shiromani Akali Dal in Punjab, the Biju Janata Dal in Orissa, and  he Telugu Desam Party in Andhra to the Telangana Rashtra Samithi today stand opposed to it.

In Greek law, excessive pride or hubris was in fact a punishable offence –insulting and degrading treatment was considered a more serious offence than physical ill-treatment. In Greek tragedies, there was an underlying belief that excessive would be punished by the gods. Hubris was therefore also often called “the pride that comes before the fall”.

What has happened in Bihar is a result of the BJP’s overweening confidence and pride will not go away by talking up Nitish Kumar as an ambitious opportunist.

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