Nitish Kumar, at the age of 68, once considered among India's sharpest politicians, has just whittled down his ambitions – he just wants to remain Chief Minister for life.
His relief must have been palpable on Monday as his Deputy Chief Minister in Bihar, Sushil Kumar Modi of the BJP, said that for the state election next year, Nitish Kumar will remain the presumptive Chief Ministerial candidate of the coalition government he runs with the BJP.
The endorsement from Sushil Modi comes after an embarrassing oops when it turned out that Bihar's CID has been snooping on RSS leaders in Bihar. The assumption was that Nitish has asked for this – or was at least in the know.
Instead of a rift, Union Home Minister Amit Shah leaned in for a real-time demonstration of how to manage an ally for a key election. Nitish would be the alliance's Chief Ministerial face. Deal done. Months to go before voting and to ensure minimal fissures over seat-sharing.
Nitish Kumar would be the National Democratic alliance's Chief Ministerial face in Bihar.
Contrast this with the thousand and one nights farce of the trust vote in Karnataka as the Congress and the JDS gave another real time demonstration – of a coalition at odds with itself.
From resort politics, weepy scenes, sleepovers in the assembly, petitions to the Supreme Court, the alliance government clings like a limpet to power with the Speaker using sorry excuses to delay the trust vote that will prove the Congress-JDS have crashed together.
"Will Karnataka ever want to elect these clowns (again)?" said a senior Congress leader to me. Amit Shah has assessed Karnataka and told his party that the government will collapse on its own, the BJP must not appear desperate to topple it. There are lurid stories of 25 crores and upwards being offered to lawmakers to rebel against the collation government. The end is nigh.
As the Congress struggles with the crisis it apparently cannot get enough of – who will replace Rahul Gandhi as President – it has no time to seriously assess the collapse of one of its few government. The central Congress' message to the Karnataka unit is, we don't really care if the government falls, while we remain headless, we follow the procrastination tactic of Rahul Gandhi.
Meanwhile, with the Maharashtra elections now barely three months away, the Shiv Sena has finally gone public with what I exclusively reported for NDTV on February 18 this year – it wants the Chief Minister's job for Aaditya Thackeray, age 29.
This is a huge break from the past when Thackeray's grandfather and Sena founder, Bal Thackeray, decided that no one from the family would be a part of the government, instead serving as an uber powerful "remote control" for the Maharashtra government.
Aaditya Thackeray, currently on a state-wide Yatra, the well-trodden route for ambitious politicians, will also contest the assembly election. This is another break from his family's past. Neither Bal Thackeray nor the current Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, who is Aaditya's father, have ever contested any election.
Aaditya Thackeray, currently on a state-wide Yatra, will also contest the Maharashtra assembly election.
The Sena and the BJP share a 30-year-long alliance and hold the record for maximum public bickering. In order to get a fractious Sena on board for the national election, Shah made the ritual genuflection trip to Matoshree, the Thackerays' Mumbai residence, and got Uddhav Thackeray to sign up. This proved to be a wise outreach as the alliance won 41 out of 48 seats in Maharashtra.
This time around, Aaditya Thackeray has gone public on the deal stitched up by Shah and his father and brokered by union minister Nitin Gadkari – that the Sena would get a shot at the office of Chief Minister. The Thackeray family will not budge on this as a precondition for the alliance. In the past, the Sena had two chief ministers – Manohar Joshi and Narayan Rane. In 2014, the BJP and Sena contested the state election separately after the BJP refused to play junior partner. The BJP landed nearly twice as many seats as the Sena.
The Thackeray family wants the Sena to contest half the seats in Maharashtra. Incumbent Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, sensing a huge threat to his job, has made some low-key protests by saying he will return to his office.
Amit Shah's record as a successful general remains intact.
The Sena leaders I spoke to for this piece, dismiss Fadnavis' comments as "ineffectual surround sound noises" saying that Shah will make the call. Says a senior Sena leader, "Fadnavis is not an elected leader, he was selected by Shah and Modi, and has no base so he will have to listen to them."
BJP leaders say that with the Thackeray family in play, the BJP eventually have to settle for a rotational route for Chief Minister and to ensure seat-sharing is decided with as little tension as possible. And that while Shah understands Fadnavis's hurt, it actually won't be a factor in the alliance's discussions.
While the Sena has hit the road to win the elections, the other combine, the Congress and the NCP, are yet to get off the starting block for talks. An angry Sharad Pawar, upset at the lack of movement, is now advising Uddhav Thackeray on the demands to make with the BJP.
Pawar has given the Congress an ultimatum – talks next week or he walks away from the alliance. But the Maharashtra branch of the Congress is busy squabbling over who takes charge of it. The fabled Congress high command has melted away. And whatever energy the Gandhis have is being invested in apparently propping up Navjot Sidhu in his battle with Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh. As it loses Karnataka, incredibly the Congress is busy sabotaging the one state Punjab that bucked the 2019 vote trend in favour of the BJP.
So Amit Shah's record as a successful general remains intact. The other side does not even want to fight.
(Swati Chaturvedi is an author and a journalist who has worked with The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times.)
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.
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