Nitish’s volte face on DeMo

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is not regarded as a run-of-the-mill politician but one with commitment to certain values and principles. This is the primary reason why, even after breaking with the BJP in Bihar in 2015, he was able to retain power by a convincing majority by forming an alliance with his arch-rival Lalu Prasad Yadav and the Congress. His firm stand against the polarizing politics of the BJP endeared him to the people of Bihar and this was reflected in the assembly election results. His sudden volte face on and support for Narendra Modi’s demonetization decision, therefore, came as a surprise to his friends and critics alike. He supported demonetization without reservation and hailed it as a welcome step for unearthing black money, for choking money supply to terrorists and for ‘cleansing’ the system, completely disregarding the hardship it was causing to honest, law-abiding citizens.
Now Nitish has suddenly changed his tune on demonetization. He has demanded that Modi should disclose the amount of black money and fake currency that has been unearthed by demonetization. He has gone a step ahead and supported former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s view that demonetization was a ‘monumental mismanagement.’ He has even hinted that the Centre is trying to use demonetization for ‘diverting’ the people’s attention from other issues. The venue and the occasion he chose for criticizing demonetization is also significant. He was speaking in New Delhi and the occasion was the launch of a book by Congress leader and former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram.
A shrewd politician that he is, Nitish must have sensed the public mood and the extent of distress that demonetization has caused. He may also have got feedback on the ground situation prevailing in the five States where assembly polls are being held and the likely outcome of the elections. Otherwise there is no reason why he should make a 160 degree revolution on demonetization and that, too, from a Congress function. If Nitish has realized, for whatever reason, that demonetization has done more harm than good, that it was a diversionary tactics of the Prime Minister and his party and that the decision was taken without any preparation and without any thought on its consequences on the economy and on people’s lives, he should be congratulated. But if his initial support for demonetization was actuated by other considerations like his uneasy equations with the RJD chief, then he will appear to be a politician who is more concerned with retaining power than with principles and values.

Wednesday, 15 February, 2017