Yes, I am in favour of demonetisation.” This is what Nitish Kumar, Chief Minister of Bihar repeated while reacting to the questions asked by journalists at his official chamber in the Assembly on 25 November. Thus, he made his stand clear for the second time since the buck ban came into effect on the midnight of 8 November.
His first official reaction to the media on the burning issue was on 10 November. Thereafter, RJD
supremo and former chief minister of Bihar Lalu Prasad Yadav attacked Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Congress state leadership sided with the latter. Political circles as well as people were surprised to see the CM taking a stand in favour of Narendra Modi’s policies and against his coalition partners. His silence for 15 days gave credence to the people’s perception, though at organisational level leaders belonging to the Janata Dal (U) made fluctuating statements, as if they too were not very much convinced about their leader’s approach to the issue that has been rocking Parliament for more than 10 days.
The for-against statements made on ‘notebandi’ by the leaders of the Grand Alliance give one to understand that all is not well among the coalition constituents of RJD, JD(U) and Congress that have been ruling the state for the last year. The development has all ingredients to suggest that the atmosphere in Bihar is heading towards re-alignment of new political forces. Says Ashok Kumar Chaudhary, BPCC president and human resources minister in Bihar, “I am waiting for signals from the central leadership. It will take a second to sever ties.” He further adds that it is injurious to the health of the Grand Alliance to make contradictory statements on an issue which has disrupted the life of people across the country.
Since Day One of the announcement of ban on the two currency notes, Lalu Prasad Yadav, RJD chief has been criticizing the prime minister, though on November 9 his son Deputy CM Tejaswi Prasad Yadav hailed the Centre’s decision. He told the press, “I am against black money and that is why I favour the decision of Narendra Modi on the issue of demonetisation. But I have doubts about its proper implementation”. A week later, Tejaswi Prasad Yadav changed his mind and started parroting his father’s view on the issue. “My father is right and I am with him on the issue”.
Lalu Prasad Yadav has feedback from across the state that the demonetisation has been severely affecting his votebank, especially the people belonging to minority community. He told Tehelka, “Muslims at large hate taking and giving money on interest, thereby avoiding a relationship with the banks. They preferred to keep money with them at their respective homes/houses. But the ban has made them paupers because even after standing for hours in long queues, they failed to exchange their hard-earned money”.
Nitish may have a larger political gameplan in mind while supporting Modi at a time when the opposition is united against PM
He alleged, “It is a surgical strike which has been causing great inconvenience to the common people.” Even political analysts agree that government action against high-value notes of 500 and 1,000 has angered Muslims to a great extent. By speaking against the demonetisation, Lalu Prasad has tried to cement his association with the minorities.
On the other hand, Nitish Kumar’s approval to the ban on notes has many facets to think of. To begin with, for quite some time the chief minister is not feeling comfortable in driving his government. If sources close to him are to be believed, Nitish Kumar is fed up with the pressures being mounted on him by none other than Lalu Prasad Yadav to accept some ‘unrightful’ demands.
By throwing his weight behind the Prime Minister, Nitish has obviously hinted he has options to continue as executive head of the state even if big brother in the alliance RJD parts ways. Leaders from the Grand Alliance also say, “Nitish Kumar can tolerate anything but not pressure for getting undue
advantage. His statement is aimed at merely to put the tiger into the cage”.
However, political observers are of the opinion that Nitish Kumar may have a larger political gameplan in his mind behind supporting Narendra Modi at a time when the entire opposition is united to take on the prime minister. On several occasions in the past, even after having differences, Ntish Kumar has supported decisions of the Union government led by Narendra Modi. For example, the Bihar CM stood by the Centre’s side on the issue of GST and terrorism and praised his arch political rival Modi on his unscheduled visit to Pakistan to attend a family function of his counterpart and surgical strike against Pakistan.
He has also promised to support him in tracing out unaccounted money in the country. Nitish Kumar, while severing the 17-year-old electoral tie-up with the BJP in June 2013, had vowed to have no relations with the saffron party at any cost in days to come. “Mai mitti me mil jana pasand karunga, lekin jindagi me BJP se haath nahi milaoonga (I would prefer to embrace political death rather than shaking hands with the BJP for political gains). In fact, he kept saying at meetings he addressed across the nation that his aim is to root out BJP from the country. Then how and why did he suddenly change his mind? There is speculation that whatever he is doing is to achieve his goal of becoming Prime Minister. By supporting the Centre on different issues, he has been trying to let the people know that he is not restricted to regional approach but is solidly in favour of the issues that are to benefit the people of the nation. “Nitish Kumar has demanded a special package for Bihar and at the same time asked the Centre to arrange similar packages to the states which are poor and cannot be developed without central assistance, signaling he considers in national perspective”, said Basisth Narain Singh, state chief of the JD(U).
The CM’s stand on demonetisation is expected to give enough energy to spread his image and popularity among the people of other states in the country. His decision of liquor ban is already being hailed as a revolutionary step. Voices demanding to put a ban of liquor are gaining ground in states like Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Maharastra and Uttar Pradesh. During the meeting of National Integration Council in Delhi held recently, the prime minister was said to have mentioned Nitish Kumar’s names five times praising his suggestions.
National spokesperson and ex-MP of JD(U) KC Tyagi, however, dismissed rumours that Nitish
Kumar may join hands with the BJP before 2019 Lok Sabha elections. “There is no truth at all behind the rumours,” he clarified, adding, “Senior party leader Sharad Yadav’s aggressive approach on demonetisation is only his view on public inconvenience but not against the stand of Nitish Kumar.”
Neeraj Kumar, MLC, told Tehelka, “The ban on notes has huge public support that was evident during the Nischaya Yatra of the chief minister. It will be aimed at weeding out black money.”
He further pointed out that Nitish Kumar had brought the Bihar Special Court Act in order to lay down the provision of attaching illegal properties of individual found involved in corruption.
Still, there is no dearth of leaders in the JD(U) who are of the opinion that Sharad Yadav feels himself marginalised, with Nitish Kumar on the top of the organisational set-up. Kumar replaced Yadav for the post of national president against the desire of the latter. Yadav is said to have got suitable opportunity and right issue to take revenge. Sources in the party reveal, “Nitish Kumar wanted him to refrain from sharing platforms with Opposition leaders and making any statement against demonetisation. But the veteran Yadav leader appears to be in no mood to oblige the Bihar Chief Minister”.
On the other hand, the RJD heavyweight and MP from Araria Mohammad Taslimuddin is not happy with the stand of Lalu Prasad Yadav on the note ban. Defying his leader, he said, “Modi’s move will help cleanse the Indian economy”.