The controversy surrounding the possibility of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi campaigning for the BJP candidates in Bihar appears to be rooted in the power struggle within the saffron party. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s opposition to Modi’s participation in the assembly poll campaign can also be linked to his desire to fan factionalism among the rank-and-file of his coalition partner even though most of his supporters claim that he does not wish to damage his goodwill among Muslims by agreeing to the visit.
Logically speaking, Nitish should have no say in who the BJP wants for its campaign in the state. It is solely the prerogative of any party to choose its star campaigners. The Muslims in Bihar know that the Janata Dal (United) is an ally of the BJP in the NDA and also in the state. Despite this, they have so far chosen to remain with the JD(U) largely because they have no real complaints against Nitish who has been successful in protecting their interests.
Therefore, why would the Muslim votebank shift towards the Rashtriya Janata Dal of Lalu Prasad and the Congress only because Modi is invited for the campaign? The Muslims have all along been aware that Modi is a part of the saffron brigade and yet they endorsed the coalition during the last poll. There is thus no reason for them not to support the alliance regardless of Modi.
The question, then is why is there such hype being built around Modi’s proposed visit to Bihar. Within the BJP, there is an open faction fight taking place. The positioning is for the 2014 parliamentary poll to determine who could be a prime-ministerial candidate since L.K. Advani’s claim was rejected in the 2009 elections.
As per the Westminster model, which we follow, the leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj should be treated as the shadow prime minister. However, the other leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley is also viewed by many as a contender for the position. Though both Jaitley and Sushma owe their positions to Advani, they are both ambitious politicians.
In addition, a large number of saffron brigade activists want Modi to be projected as the next PM candidate given that he has been a successful Gujarat CM for nearly nine years. He is seen to be the face of Hindutva by hardliners and there is no dearth of people who consider him as the only leader from the BJP stable who can deliver the goods. There could be others too depending on what the Sangh parivar jointly decides on. Murli Manohar Joshi, though out in the cold at present, could be in the running.
The other dimension of the PM battle is that Nitish Kumar’s stock across the country is quite high. He is considered to be likely PM material in the event of the NDA coming to power and thus could be an aspirant like the JD(U) president Sharad Yadav whose experience and down-to-earth approach endears him to allies as well as opponents.
Therefore, the real problem of Modi coming to Bihar is that the parties involved may be fighting for the second round (PM candidate one) before the first has even commenced. By expressing opposition to Modi, Nitish is improving his standing among Muslims outside Bihar since the Muslims in the state already hold him in high esteem. He is also creating a further wedge within the BJP and its PM claimants. The view may sound exaggerated to some, but in realpolitik one has to think and plan ahead. Nitish is helping those forces who despite being in the BJP want Modi weakened by becoming more controversial. The fight is for the bigger crown and not the one, which is offered, in Bihar. Between us.