Relying on Nitish and Naidu for Indian Democracy’s Rescue: A Misguided Hope

Neither has said anything about the lynching of cattle transporters, or the arrest of chief ministers, or the misuse of central agencies

Nitish Kumar and Chandrababu Naidu are seasoned politicians with well-honed survival instincts. Trust them to look after their own fortunes, political or otherwise, not to do the heavy lifting to uphold democratic norms. Those who value liberal democracy have to work to achieve it on their own, work among the people, instead of hoping that Naidu and Nitish would do the job for them as key members of the supporting cast in Narendra Modi 3.0.

Neither Naidu nor Nitish Kumar has said anything about the lynching of two cattle transporters who were moving buffaloes in a truck in Chhattisgarh. Nor have they said anything in public against the arrest of chief ministers or the misuse of central agencies. They are not going out of their way to meet the liberal aspirations that stand thwarted by Modi getting the chance to run the country for another term.

Paswan’s protest

Ramvilas Paswan had registered his protest at the Gujarat riots of 2002 by quitting the Vajpayee-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government. Nitish Kumar, too, evolved as a leader in the same Janata Parivar as Paswan had, but did not think it necessary to do that, bothered as he was only about maintaining communal peace in his home state of Bihar. He served as a cabinet minister under Vajpayee, heading different ministries, including the Railways, for the longest time.

Diverse Alliances Shape India’s Democratic Landscape

Naidu had been convenor of the United Front of non-Congress, non-BJP parties that held office for two years over 1996-98, but allied himself with the NDA from 1998 to 2004, although his party did not join the Vajpayee-led government.

Let us be clear that very many parties have worked closely with the BJP in the past. The DMK was a vocal member of the Vajpayee government, with their leader Murasoli Maran setting, as commerce minister, the belligerent tone at World Trade Organisation meets that India has maintained ever since, wrecking consensus at ministerial after ministerial. The AIADMK was a member of the 1998 NDA government led by Vajpayee, and has been a tentative ally over the last 10 years. Mamata Banerjee and her Trinamool Congress were part of the Vajpayee government.

The Left had supported the VP Singh government in tandem with the BJP, even as the Ram Janmabhoomi campaign rolled out across North India, seeding communal riots in its wake, and leading to the growth of the BJP as a national force. The Bahujan Samaj Party had formed a government in Uttar Pradesh jointly with the BJP. The Biju Janata Dal was part of the Vajpayee-led NDA, and had been a Modi ally in the Rajya Sabha over the last 10 years. The Janata Dal (S) was the BJP’s government partner in Karnataka and is now an NDA ally.

RJD, SP never joined NDA

Only the Rashtriya Janata Dal led by Lalu and the Samajwadi Party, among the major political parties, have not joined hands with the BJP, besides the Congress. Many Congressmen, however, have crossed over to the BJP and found no difficulty switching their fealty from Nehru’s idea of India to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s idea of a Hindu Rashtra, a nation in which followers of the majority faith alone have full citizenship rights, and religious minorities live as second-class citizens, accepting the superiority of Hindus.

Can it be argued that allying with the BJP under Vajpayee was less of an affront to constitutional values than allying with the BJP led by Modi? That is like saying that the baby alligator was so cute, who knew feeding it would result in this big alligator.

In such a political culture, it is wildly unrealistic to expect two longstanding allies of the BJP to hold their senior political partner, led by an imperious Modi, to democratic account. That will not happen. Only if the BJP tries to achieve aggressive organizational growth in Andhra Pradesh, eating into the Telugu Desam’s political base, would TDP-BJP relationship experience any strain.

Muslim reservation issue

What about the reservation for Muslims the TDP says it would continue in Andhra Pradesh? The Constitutional provision on reservations is clear: socially and economically backward classes are entitled to reservations, and certain Muslim communities fit that description, and cannot be denied the benefit of reservation. Only if the TDP tries to give Muslims reservations without regard to social and economic backwardness would the BJP have a problem. The TDP, let us face it, is unlikely to offer reservations to Asaduddin Owaisi and his elite kin.

The Lok Sabha election results have broken the myth of Modi’s invincibility. Dalits have broken free of Mayawati’s thrall in Uttar Pradesh and are ready to vote for the Yadav-dominant Samajwadi Party, although Yadavs, on the ground, are often their immediate oppressors. That shows that Dalits vote politically rather than purely on identity.

The Constitution arose as a major campaign point in these elections, thanks to constitutional values being challenged by the Modi regime. The first time the Constitution figured in the political discourse, after it had been adopted in 1950, was during the agitation against the Citizenship Amendment Act, before Covid scuttled any agitation on the ground.

The disenchantment the electorate has displayed with the idea of a strongman saviour, and the importance of the Constitution are positives for strengthening the polity’s democratic tendencies. But politics does not progress on the basis of abstract ideas alone. People have to be mobilized on concrete issues. That is hard work, compared to wishing on a couple of stars in the NDA firmament.

TK Arun is a senior journalist based in Delhi.

The article was first published in The Federal as ‘Don’t count on Nitish and Naidu to salvage Indian democracy‘ on June 13, 2024.

Disclaimer: All views expressed in the article belong solely to the author and not necessarily to the organisation.

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Acknowledgment: This article was posted by Mansi Garg, a Visiting Researcher and Assistant Editor at IMPRI.