Practise politics the Nitish Kumar way

One of the major problems that the nation faces is that its political class has made politics a business. And tragically, this political business is not grounded in business ethics. It is all about plundering public wealth that gets accumulated with the exchequer through budget allocations and welfare expenditure. This was most evident in states such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh where for years politicians established a tradition of doing their “business” more brazenly than in any other state.
However, Nitish Kumar, the chief minister of Bihar, seems to have travelled a different path by adhering to Lohiaite socialist ethic even while being in the company of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). He retained the moral ground — during the last five years — that politics should not be allowed to be used as business at all.
Criminalisation of Bihar politics had gone beyond all limits. Even Lalu Prasad Yadav’s regime, which had a face of social justice, could not control that criminalisation process.
In Uttar Pradesh, too, the Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati regimes did not change the process of political corruption and, thereby, the dynamics of the state and society in any significant way. Though Ms Mayawati advanced the process of social engineering, in terms of corruption the old pattern continued.
Likewise, the Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy regime of Andhra Pradesh inaugurated a new style of “welfarism” which enabled political families to accumulate money. His own family became wealthy in an unparalleled manner. Within just five years of his rule, his family established a business empire with a media network of its own. This model came from Tamil Nadu but in Andhra Pradesh it became more brazen than what the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam family network managed to create. Using this money power, YSR’s son, Jagan Mohan Reddy, attempted to shake the Congress high command itself, which needed to work out all kinds of strategies to overcome the power hunger of the family.
In Karnataka, on the other hand, BJP chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa allegedly accumulated family wealth through land deals. At the national level, the 2-G spectrum scam of A. Raja — a dalit leader — along with the Commonwealth Games scam and the corruption of Ashok Chavan of Maharastra, have shaken the nation.
In the midst of all this, Mr Kumar retained a moral credibility of a different nature. Simplicity and modesty among politicians and bureaucrats has become a rare commodity. Mr Kumar seems to possess that commodity and has also retained dexterity.
The lesson that two outstanding socio-political leaders of India— Mahatma Gandhi and B.R. Ambedkar — taught was that a moral polity is essential for sustaining healthy democracy. Mahatma Gandhi’s personal life is too well known to be commented upon, but one example from the life of Ambedkar, who was the first law minister of the nation, gives us a glimpse of his high ethical standards.
Ambedkar did not have `20,000 to publish his last major book — Buddha and His Dhamma — even after he had served as law minister. He then wrote a letter to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, requesting for that amount to be arranged as a pre-publication grant and he would deposit copies of the book worth that much money for the government to distribute to Buddhist scholars. Nehru refused to grant that money and Ambedkar had to struggle to publish that book. Can you imagine a Union minister of that kind now?
There is a fundamental difference between Mr Kumar and his rival, Mr Yadav, even in understanding the ethics of Lohia. While claiming to be a disciple of Lohia, Mr Yadav performs all kinds of Hindu rituals in public gaze. We have not seen Mr Kumar doing that. Even though he has a tactical alliance with the BJP, he tries to be a politician of principles. He has also stayed away from the likes of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi before the election.
Politics should not be allowed to become a game of scoundrels. Political morality, which has several implications on economic and social morality, has to be guarded with a lot of value-based discourse around it.
If a political society reaches a point where moral questions get out of the “comfort zone”, the economic and cultural realms crumble with much more ease.
Economic globalisation with a massive bulldozer market has made people working in all fields vulnerable to corruption. The Niira Radia tapes show how even those who get huge salaries in the media and are believed to be incorruptible can be drawn into that net.
Amidst all this mess Mr Kumar’s clean image and a positive approach to governance stand out.
What he seems to have done is to conduct politics as politics and not as business. His kith and kin are not paraded before the public to be pampered. The criminal gangs are controlled without allowing any political support to reach them. In a state like Bihar, this is easier said than done. But he did it.
There was no financial corruption in the early governments though there was communal bias. Now financial corruption of politicians is combined with communal bigotism. Financial corruption is eating the vitals of the nation. This is happening in spite of Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi, who have clean images, being at the helm of affairs.
Mr Kumar certainly sets a new example at the state level, while being outside the ring of Mrs Sonia Gandhi and Dr Singh. And that is no small thing.

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