For Nitish Kumar, Mohammad Shahabuddin’s release from jail on bail brings on a moment of reckoning. When Shahabuddin was incarcerated 11 years ago, Nitish was a bitter rival of Lalu Prasad, and the taming of the RJD’s don was set to become the badge that the Nitish-led JD(U)-BJP government would flaunt with pride to proclaim its achievements on the law and order front in Bihar. If Nitish’s “su-raj” was projected as, and seen to be, different from Lalu’s “jungle raj” because of its successes in restoring the authority of the state, the undermining of “Saheb’s” writ in Siwan was a very important marker of that change. Now, 11 years later, politics in Bihar has turned again, throwing up alignments unforeseen in 2005.
As he stepped out of jail on Saturday, Shahabuddin walked into a political regime of the Lalu-Nitish Mahagathbandhan that came to power a year ago. For Nitish, therefore, the release of Bhagalpur jail’s most infamous prisoner means a confrontation with the man and phenomenon whose vanquishing was such a vital part of his own success, but whom he can no longer clearly or credibly distance himself from. The exchange of barbs between Nitish and Shahabuddin — the latter called the former a “chief minister of circumstances”, Nitish retorted by citing his “mandate” — must be seen in this context.
The context is also one of a perceived standstill, if not backward slide, in the Nitish-led Mahagathbandhan government nearly a year after it came to power after trouncing Nitish’s former ally and partner, the BJP. In his third term as chief minister, Nitish seems to be making news for many wrong reasons. The leader who is credited with re-instating the state and then turning it around in his previous two terms through an astute combination of the politics and delivery of social justice and development, appears to have run out of ideas. His government’s draconian, anti-people prohibition policy seems to be born of a failure of political imagination regarding the next step in Bihar’s turnaround story. At this moment, Nitish appears to be a leader trapped in an uncomfortable alliance with a frenemy, flailing for ideas to take Bihar forward, and succumbing to the seduction of a grand “social revolution” that can help him vault over the constraint and untidiness of his political circumstance. A Shahabuddin outside jail adds to the difficulty of being Nitish in 2016: He is the voice from the past Nitish cannot fully confront — and one that he cannot afford not to.
Much will depend on how Nitish conquers his Shahabuddin dilemma, or fails to. And on whether he reads the mandate for the JD(U)-RJD alliance in terms of its radical possibilities or its congealed constraints.
Source : Saheb vs Su-raj
Courtesy : Indian Express – Editorials