Why has Nitish Kumar stopped being coy and show-cased himself as better qualified than other aspirants for the Prime Minister’s office?
The question might confound the uninitiated. But it’s a no-brainer for inveterate practitioners of the electoral game. At a subtle level, Nitish Kumar is countering the BJP’s word-of-mouth campaign that Narendra Modi’s prime ministerial candidature would help it win Lok Sabha seats at the expense of regional parties.
Read: I am as good as any PM candidate, says Nitish Kumar
But more overtly, the Bihar CM — like his counterparts in Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh — is harnessing parochial sentiments to buttress the JD(U)’s numbers on its home wicket.
It’s another matter whether he succeeds or not. The “son of the soil” card he has played is aimed as much at regional peers such as Lalu Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan who aren’t in contention for the top job.
Lalu’s Rahul and Paswan’s Modi are now pitted in Bihar against Nitish — the native. At least on paper, the CM’s claim is impressive, given his stints in the opposition and treasury in Parliament. Rahul hasn’t served as a minister. Modi hasn’t ever sat in Parliament.
The formula Nitish has hit upon is oft-tried with some measure of success. In 1991, PV Narasimha Rao wasn’t a member of either House when he became PM in extraordinary circumstances after Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination midway through the poll campaign. A by-election in Andhra’s Nandyal saw him winning by a record margin of over 5.80 lakh votes.
Read: Modi faces rebels in Bihar, so do Lalu and Nitish
Such was the force of the Telugu pride that the Congress’s main opponent, the TDP, desisted from naming a candidate against the first PM from the state.
Known more for his erudition than mass appeal, Rao, a Brahmin, couldn’t have posted the humungous victory without the parochial aura that dismantled other identities. The Reddy-Kamma-Kappu divide disappeared. The “Telugu Bidda” bandwagon rolled unhindered!
Read: Nitish Kumar terms BJP-LJP alliance 'unprincipled'
The logic behind Jayalalithaa positioning herself as prime minister against old pal Narendra Modi is no different.
The turnout at his Trichy rally alarmed the AIADMK; the Dravidian party losing no time in presenting people a choice between an outsider and their very own and venerated Amma.
Read: Jayalalithaa breaking and making deals on her way to Delhi
Narendra Modi’s presidential style campaign and his allegiance to a party tipped to emerge as the single largest, give him an edge over other contenders. His rivals’ game is to negate that appeal by ranging sub-nationalist sentiments against Modi’s broad-brush nationalism.
The face-off could make inevitable a coalition arrangement — a prognosis confirmed by the BJP’s frantic search for pre-poll allies.
Read: Karunanidhi praises Modi, calls him a 'good friend'
It’s a given that the numbers added by regional/sub-regional satraps would be a subtraction in governance terms.
Read: Modi mocks Third Front, attacks Nitish
The contradiction can be variously explained. But it essentially is about provincial outfits guarding fiefdoms with as much zeal as they are now doing, to contain the lead party’s spread after elections.
HT column: Why big business likes Narendra Modi