Unexpected it may not have been but the final BJP-JD(U) split on Sunday was bitter to the very end, and showed Narendra Modi as the divisive and polarising force many accuse him of being.
“Our foundational principles have been irrevocably damaged. I’m not bothered about the consequence even if they harm us. It may be anything but the coalition has ended,” Bihar chief minister and JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar said grimly. “It’s a question of morality, not about holding on to power.”
In a parting shot, he recommended the removal of the BJP’s 11 ministers, who had struck work these last few days. The CM will seek to prove his majority in a special session of the Bihar assembly beginning June 19. “We are confident of the numbers,” Nitish, who has the backing of five independent MLAs to take his tally to the required 122 in the 243-strong assembly, said.
“Alliances work on mutual trust. When BJP had 67 MLAs and JD(U) 34, we gave them the CM’s post,” BJP chief Rajnath Singh said.
Both sides spoke of the Modi factor. “They need 272 seats to claim the prime ministership. They have been misled into thinking there is an upsurge in favour of one person,” said Nitish.
JD(U) president Sharad Yadav, who quit as NDA convener, cited “basic principles” — interpreted as keeping Modi at bay — as the reason for the break-up.
Rajnath’s answer to this: “Should we part when it’s time to throw out the Congress? Is Modi responsible for the 2002 (Gujarat) riots when so many riots have taken place under the Congress?”
“Is making our popular CM campaign chief my sin? Parties that don’t respect people's will can't survive in politics for long," he added.
The end of the 17-year alliance with the socialists - exactly a week after the BJP anointed Modi the face of its 2014 campaign - has reduced the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to a diminished, right-of-the-centre alliance. It has just three parties now - the BJP, Shiv Sena and Shiromani Akali Dal - and is headed for a polarised poll campaign in which secularism, and not just "UPA corruption", will be a key issue.
The resultant polarisation will lead to tactical Muslim voting to keep the NDA out.
This means the Congress and some regional parties favoured by the minority community - such as Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party and Lalu Prasad's Rashtriya Janata Dal - could gain. Nitish will have to see if he joins the fledgling federal front or seeks an understanding with the Congress.
As for the NDA, its chances of expansion as polls draw close are slender. It can expand only if Modi brings impressive gains to the BJP by attracting regional parties.
This, incidentally, is what the BJP and the RSS are hoping for.