The Janata Dal (United) on Sunday made a formal addition to the NDA’s agenda of governance where contentious issues were meant to be put on the backburner: the condition that the BJP select an inclusive, secular leader who is sensitive to diversity and backward regions as its prime ministerial candidate.
Without naming him, Nitish Kumar drew oblique red lines around the possible candidature of Narendra Modi, putting it in the league of no-go areas such as article 370, Uniform Civil Code and Ram temple.
In swearing by the alliance, the JD(U) has put the ball in BJP’s court, without snapping the alliance itself. The reason: the alliance seems mutually beneficial on paper, and Kumar doesn’t want to rush to call it off and take the blame for it.
By attacking Modi, Kumar wants to attract the 15% Muslim vote in Bihar, which was till recently considered the captive votebank of Lalu Prasad’s RJD. The JD(U) has already carved a constituency of non-Yadav backwards — Kumar himself is a Kurmi — and MahaDalits — non-Paswan Dalits — and comes to power by adding upper castes (about 14% of Bihar’s population) through the BJP.
But there is one catch. If Kumar loses upper caste votes in the event of a breakup with BJP, Lalu Prasad may come back to power. Yet, if upper castes ditch the BJP to go with Kumar to keep Lalu Prasad out of power, Kumar may well become the sole strongman in Bihar. An attractive yet risky proposition. Given this, Kumar has played the fine line of swearing by the BJP while saying Modi is unacceptable, generating calibrated tensions.