After the BJP and the RSS decided that Narendra Modi would be their face for the 2014 campaign, Bihar chief minister and JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar had little choice other than parting with his saffron ally. The BJP-JD(U) alliance has been in power in Bihar since 2005, and Nitish Kumar’s stewardship has been credited with turning around the state’s fortunes. There is no immediate threat to Mr Kumar’s survival as chief minister, but the split in the 17-year-long alliance throws open the politics of Bihar — in fact, of India — to new possibilities and realignments.
What is happening in Bihar cannot be seen in isolation. The Goa announcement of the BJP recently, appointing Mr Modi as the chief of its campaign committee, has set in motion such a political churning that the first aftershock was within the party itself. Patriarch LK Advani found the BJP move so unacceptable that he resigned from all party posts that he was holding. Though he was persuaded to withdraw this resignation, the dust has not yet settled within the parivar. Mr Modi’s elevation has also triggered off a realignment of social groups and forces, which will be increasingly visible as we near the election season. What happened in Bihar is illustrative of the impact the Gujarat chief minister’s presence can have on existing and potential alliances for the BJP. Addressing a JD(U) gathering in April in Delhi, Mr Kumar had made it clear that he would not compromise on some fundamental beliefs and counted secularism among them. Though he has never stated it publicly, Mr Kumar had made it abundantly clear that Mr Modi’s projection as leader by the BJP would be incompatible with his fundamental belief. What makes Mr Modi’s personality so contested is the fact that the Gujarat riots of 2002 took place under his rule. Mr Modi has since managed to cultivate an image of himself as an able administrator, but is still struggling to shake off the taint of the cataclysmic events of 2002.
The BJP calculates that it will have new allies when it shows its strength, and the only way to attain that strength is by letting Mr Modi lead a campaign across the country. This calculation is partly true. However, what is significant is the fact that though the Congress-led UPA has been unraveling over the last one year, none of those regional parties see an alliance with the BJP as a gainful move. On the contrary, a long-time and trusted ally, the JD(U), has found the BJP’s company uneasy. While Mr Modi’s leadership is essential for a party that has been lethargic and ineffective, the same is causing friction with the allies. This is a dilemma that the BJP will not find easy to resolve.