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Of Kingmakers and Emperors Without...


SUTANU GURU | New Delhi, June 5, 2013 14:01
Tags : Nitish Kumar | 2014 Lok Sabha polls | Kingmaker | UPA | Congress | Narendra Modi | NCP | BJP |

This blog was written in March 20, 2013 and had warned Nitish Kumar about the dangers of dreaming of playing king maker.

"He loves me, he loves me not, he loves me....".  There is many a Congress leader who could be playing this teen fantasy game while thinking about Nitish Kumar. Now that the DMK has done what it should have done about three years ago, Nitish Kumar becomes even more crucial. To borrow language from the ISI of Pakistan, Nitish Kumar and his party can provide "strategic depth" to the Congress when it faces an angry, frustrated and vengeful electorate in 2014 (if not earlier!). During his so called Adhikar rally organized in the capital, the Bihar chief minister gave enough hints that he, his vote bank and his allegiance could be up for grabs. So don't be surprised if the media keeps a relentless focus on Nitish Kumar and his future plans. In fact, his acolytes have stated a fantasy scenario that could called Nitish as Prime Minister. And why not, surely he has better credentials as a politician and administrator than Manmohan Singh, I.K Gujral, H.D Deve Gowda and V.P Singh! If only a pesky upstart called Narendra Modi was not hovering on the horizon! But there is no mistake about this: Nitish Kumar is the favour of the season and the latest kingmaker of Indian politics.

But it might be instructive for the Bihar chief minister to read up on contemporary political history and learn some lessons. Kingmakers of Indian politics have a nasty habit of acquiring a common disease called hubris. And the Indian voter has a nasty habit of exposing kingmakers as emperors without clothes! Lets go back a bit to 1989 when V.P Singh was riding the Bofors bandwagon towards power in Delhi. One of key charioteers of this bandwagon was the then chief minister of Andhra Pradesh N.T Rama Rao who had acquired cult status as a film star who had humiliated the mighty Congress. He was the loudest and most vocal voice of an emerging anti Congress alliance across the country. And what happened then? V.P Singh did manage to humble Rajiv Gandhi and the Congress to emerge as possibly the worst Prime Minister that India ever had(tough competition from Manmohan Singh!). But voters had something else in store for NTR. His party Telugu Desam was decimated and humiliated in the 1989 Lok Sabha and assembly elections. The king maker had lost his crown, throne and chair all in one go.

In the tumultuous days of 1999 when a tea party enjoyed by Sonia Gandhi and J.Jayalalithaa led to the collapse of the Vajpayee government which lost a no confidence motion by just one vote, Sharad Pawar emerged as the new kingmaker. Sensing an opportunity- something which he couldn't grab in 1991 when the Congress preferred a safe P.V Narasimha Rao to an ambitious Pawar- the Maratha strongman revolted against Sonia Gandhi and formed his own party called NCP. The calculations back then were quite clear. Kargil was yet to happen and not many expected the NDA led by Vajpayee to win a decisive victory. So there was every chance of a hopelessly hung parliament and who more qualified than Sharad Pawar to play kingmaker and dream of his own Kingdom? But the Indian voter had other ideas. Sharad Pawar was forced to eat humble pie and share power with the Congress in Maharashtra, failing to even have the NCP take the post of the chief minister. Vajpayee, of course, was voted back with a comfortable majority. Ever since, the halo around Sharad Pawar has been dimming consistently. Even his most loyal and die hard loyalist now knows that Pawar as Prime Minister is a fantasy.

But every time one kingmaker is taught a lesson by the voters, another one emerges. In the run up to the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, it was the computer savvy Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu who was feted, felicitated and hailed by the media as the new kingmaker. He was considered unassailable and invulnerable. And media pundits marveled at his a ability to play Chinese checkers with the NDA regime and get the goodies for his state. Predictably, the voters had other ideas and Chandrababu Naidu was humbled at the hustings by the late Y.S Rajasekhara Reddy. The cyber czar has never recovered from that debacle and forget Prime Minister, it would be virtually impossible for him to become even the Chief Minister of Andhra.

Welcome to a breathless media and a new fantasy land in 2009. The Left had withdrawn support to the UPA regime in 2008 over the Indo-US nuclear deal. The terror attacks of 26/11 and the economic crisis made the Congress appear terribly vulnerable. And so Prakash Karat was anointed by the media as the new kingmaker. Humbled kingmakers like Chandrababu and future kingmakers like Mayawati were gathered by him to offer a fantasy called the Third Front to the Indian voter. Prakash Karat thundered that the Congress cannot rule without Left support. And then spoke the voter. The 2009 Lok Sabha elections prove to be a humiliation and a lesson that Prakash Karat is not going to forget in a hurry. Look at the irony. Do you see an newspaper headline talking about Prakash Karat and the Left?

No sir, the headlines are all about Nitish Kumar and his perceived ability to provide strategic depth to the Congress. And there is every chance that Nitish Kumar might succumb to hubris. For his own sake, he shouldn't. Forget history lessons and just look at the maths. In the last assembly elections, the JD(U) got 22.5 pc of the votes, the BJP won 16.5 pc and the Congress 8.3 pc. Any prizes for guessing what will probably happen when he splits with the BJP? The lucky winner will win a new fantasy game.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017