At a time when cracks within the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) over the presidential polls are visible to all, the alliance faced further embarrassment on Tuesday when one of its potential prime ministerial candidates Nitish Kumar fired a salvo at another, Narendra Modi.
Bihar chief minister and JD(U) strongman Nitish Kumar said publicly that the NDA’s prime ministerial candidate in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections should be “secular and liberal”. This was seen in political circles as his rejection of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi as a possible candidate for the PM’s post.
“The leader of the coalition should have secular credentials and a liberal frame of mind,” Kumar said in a media interview, ruling himself out of the race for prime ministership.
Kumar added that the NDA should declare its PM candidate well ahead of the Lok Sabha elections so that people get to know whom they would vote for. The candidate should be someone who feels for underdeveloped states like Bihar, he said.
Attacking Modi is being seen as Kumar’s attempt to establish his credentials among Bihar Muslims, once seen as a captive vote-bank of his now-fading rival Lalu Prasad.
It also projects him as the NDA's “secular” leader, apart from helping him maintain a calibrated distance from ally BJP in order to keep his options open closer to the general elections.
Bihar deputy CM Sushil Modi of the BJP promptly endorsed Kumar's views: “He (the PM candidate) should have a liberal image that former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee enjoyed.” But a section of the state BJP disapproved of Kumar's utterances and labelled him as “pseudo-secular”.
For the central leadership of the BJP Kumar's statement brought anything but comfort. Party sources said that though the UPA is smarting from blows from the Opposition, civil society groups and allies like Mamata Bannerjee, the NDA has been failing to project itself as a viable alternative because of the divergences and infighting within the alliance.
Kumar's oblique rejection of Modi as PM candidate strengthens perceptions of rifts in the NDA.