There were references to Raj dharma, there was mention of the need for a secular prime ministerial candidate and the issue of leaders having to do many things including wearing a skull cap in Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar’s recent speech.
The unspoken message was that he and his party, the JD(U), would not accept Narendra Modi as the prime ministerial candidate of the NDA in the coming elections. The BJP on its part seems to correctly suggest that the choice should be left to it were it to lead an alliance. The JD(U) brings with it 20 seats to Parliament as of now, propping up the table for the 153-strong NDA grouping.
Nitish Kumar’s aversion to naming Modi the leader, indeed he is trying to force the NDA’s hand sooner rather than later, could mean that the BJP will have to chose between its trump card Modi and a valuable ally the JD(U). That the BJP is not on a very strong wicket in Bihar is seen from the fact that in the last general election, it won only 12 seats, all of which were in alliance with the JD(U).
However, there is a section in the BJP which reckons that it would be better to stick with Mr Modi who could bring in a greater tally of votes for it overall than last time (where it got 115 seats) than be held to ransom for a possible 20 seats which the JD(U) could bring with it. All this is, of course, speculation at this stage.
If the BJP is planning to jettison allies like the JD(U), then it should look at a considerable increase in its vote share, something which does not look likely at the moment.
The Modi factor is also largely an untried one, it remains to be seen how much of a pan-India appeal the Gujarat chief minister will have. The NDA leadership while making it clear that it will not push Mr Modi aside for any ally, seems to be focusing its energies on removing the UPA rather than coming up with an agenda that will catch people’s attention. Negative campaigns don’t always work too well as we have seen in the past.
While Nitish Kumar may sound unrelenting now, it is also clear that he is sending a message to his Muslim vote-bank which is a significant factor in any election in the state.
The BJP Bihar state unit has expressed its unhappiness with the chief minister’s stand, which means that the NDA alliance is now under severe strain. It will require more than a bit of effort on BJP president Rajnath Singh’s part to smooth things over.
The only thing that the NDA can feel slightly satisfied about is that the UPA is also on shaky ground when it comes to allies. But Nitish Kumar’s veiled references have effectively pulled the veil off the many contradictions that the NDA faces as it begins the run-up to elections 2014.