The speculation about the future relationship between the BJP and its ally, the Janata Dal (United) continues to make news after Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar publicly snubbed the saffron brigade following the publication of his picture alongside that of Gujarat CM Narendra Modi. While many analysts feel this was the first step taken by Nitish Kumar to sever his party’s association with the BJP, JD(U) president Sharad Yadav has reiterated that the two parties continue to be allies. The advertisements in Patna newspapers on the day of the BJP National Executive meeting had upset Nitish since being pictured alongside Modi would have irked his Muslim votebank.
This is something the Bihar CM cannot afford with the state going to the polls in October. He made his displeasure felt cancelling the dinner he was to host for the BJP National Executive members sparking off speculation about their future relationship. He has since returned Rs. 5 crore given by the Gujarat government for the Kosi flood relief work.
Sharad Yadav is a pragmatic politician and knows that if the BJP and the JD(U) part ways, Lalu Yadav’s RJD will be the biggest beneficiary. The break-up of the alliance will hurt not only the BJP but also the JD(U) even if Nitish feels that he can win the elections on his own on the strength of his popularity among the backward castes, particularly his own community of Kurmis.
If the JD(U) goes it alone, the upper castes will favour the BJP and the media support, which had helped the Bihar CM achieve an almost iconic status, will be diluted. The BJP, on its own, will lose many seats that it can win only with the support of the JD(U).
The Congress could have exploited the issue but it seems that it has spoilt its chances by replacing a Bhumihar president Anil Sharma with Mehboob Ali Kaiser, a weak Muslim face. In addition, it has assigned Mukul Wasnik the task of overseeing the strategy to target the Dalit votes. Wasnik is not an acceptable Dalit face for the state. The party would have done better by having an upper caste leader as the president and someone like Beni Prasad Verma from UP, a Kurmi as the party in-charge.
There is also another dimension to the Nitish-Modi face-off. Both leaders are among those who can be projected as the NDA’s prime ministerial candidate in 2014. Nitish’s claim will be very strong if he leads the alliance to a victory in the assembly elections. Sushma Swaraj, as the leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha should be an automatic choice for the post
though Modi’s supporters who have no love lost for her feel that the Gujarat CM will make a better candidate. In the unpleasantness between the allies in Patna, Modi showed signs of immaturity while addressing a public rally in which he praised deputy Chief Minister Sushil Modi and other party colleagues and pointedly omitted
Nitish Kumar’s name from the state government’s highlights. He would have emerged on a stronger wicket had he complimented his counterpart for the achievements.
The BJP, as a senior partner in the national alliance with parties like the JD(U), has to understand that without the support of regional outfits, it cannot return to power at the Centre. Even at the peak of its glory under an acceptable leader like Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the BJP could never go beyond 182 seats in the Lok Sabha. It is hard to imagine that any other leader can improve on that. Therefore, if the saffron brigade wants to be a serious player at the national level, it would do well to keep its alliance partners happy. Between us.