Nitish's break with BJP: a gambit gone wrong

  • Rai Atul Krishna, Hindustan Times, Patna
  • Updated: Jun 16, 2014 18:53 IST

Exactly a year after former Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar prevailed upon his party, the Janata Dal (United), to severe its 17-year-old alliance with the BJP, there can be little doubt it was a gambit that went wrong.

It was on this very day last year - June 16, 2013, that the JD(U) leadership had announced it was breaking off with the BJP, its then Bihar ruling coalition partner and electoral ally since 1996.

The immediate 'provocation' for this hard decision was the elevation at the BJP's Goa conclave of then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi as head of its Lok Sabha election campaign committee. He was later named the party's PM nominee.

It's now clear the move has failed the JD (U) in the biggest test. In the recent Lok Sabha poll, the party could win just two out of 40 seats in Bihar, down from 20 it had clinched in the 2009 poll as a BJP ally and NDA constituent.

By contrast, the BJP and a set of new found allies emerged victorious on 31 Lok Sabha seats, with the saffron party alone accounting for 22 seats. This counted for a big leg up from 12 seats the BJP had from the 2009 poll, as a JD (U) ally.

Again, the man whose rise in the BJP the JD (U) leadership had cited as the main reason for the break – the then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, won a massive majority in the poll and is now India's prime minister.

Nitish, who had vowed to stop him, on the other hand, put in his paper as chief minister on May 17, a day after the Lok Sabha poll results came in, owning moral responsibility for his party's election debacle.

DM Diwakar, director of Patna think tank AN Sinha institute of social studies, believes Nitish called it right in his assessment of a severely adverse Muslim reaction to Modi's emergence as NDA's poll mascot.

"Where he miscalculated was in assuming that the Muslims would go with him once he broke with the BJP. The minorities backed whosoever they thought was the strongest anti-BJP candidate. It so happened the Lalu-led alliance candidates, rather than JD (U) nominees, were perceived to fit the bill", Diwakar said.

Even the extremely backwards classes and Mahadalits, a special category of poorest among dalits, created by Nitish and recipients of special benefits, failed to deliver for him in the face of Modi's 'good days are ahead' poll promise.

But the man who appeared to have lost much at a personal level by way of the outcome of that fateful decision this day last year, put up a brave face on its first anniversary.

"Even today we stand by our principled decision to walk out of the alliance (with the BJP). Whatever the outcome, principles don't change", Nitish said in post on his official facebook page.

The outcome has, indeed, been hard on him.

Now, an enfeebled Nitish has his immediate task cut out in stopping rebel MLAs of his own party from toppling official JD (U) nominees – Pawan Varma and Ghulam Rasool Baliyawi, in the June 19 by poll for two Rajya Sabha seats.

If the two JD (U) nominees lose, it will surely undermine further Nitish's position as the most powerful JD (U) leader for the past over eight years and its potential prime ministerial face.

The rebels, backing independent nominees – builder Anil Sharma and ex-RS MP Sabir, and counting on the support of 84 BJP MLAs in the 243-member Bihar assembly the effective strength of which is 232, appear to be on a roll.

This was indicated by Nitish's desperate appeal for support on Saturday to arch rival Lalu Prasad, the RJD chief and his foe for the last 20 years since he broke away to form Samata Party in 1994, with socialist leader George Fernandes.

Lalu's first public response to his appeal, on Sunday, was typically irreverent. "They are looking for a fire tender to tend to a JD (U) house set alight by the party's own MLAs", the RJD chief said.

But he did not reveal whether or not the 21 RJD MLAs would back the JD (U) nominees in the June 19 RS poll.

The tipping figure in the election is 117, which counts for a simple majority in the effective Bihar assembly strength of 232.

The JD (U) has 117 MLAs and is backed by four Congress MLAs, one CPI member and at least two out of five independents.

However, the rebels, aggrieved over party hoppers being given prominent positions over loyalists, have been claiming the support of "over 50 JD (U) MLA". Even if 30 go their way, they may turn the tables on JD (U) nominee with BJP support.

If that happens, it will be a severe blow to the man who pulled the plug on saffron a year ago. That's why he is in desperate need of RJD support.

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