The Nitish Kumar-led Janata-Dal United JD (U) is still not decided on an immediate pullout from the NDA and would first enter into a larger dialogue with its own legislators and 'friends' before taking the plunge.
Bihar CM Nitish Kumar (L) and deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi at a function in Patna. The alliance between their parties is heading for a split. (AP photo)
Outwardly, the calm has held with the NDA ministers going about their jobs 'normally'. But, the sense of anticipation of a break, is all around.
On Wednesday, JD (U) spokesperson and MP Shivanand Tiwary echoed the chief minister's feeling of 'just wait and watch. What is the rush?' But, there were indications, that a decision on whether the coalition is to continue or not, could come within the week.
Kumar is said to have held a meeting with his close aides late Tuesday night and asked them to be ready for a decision. Insiders told HT, "A decision could come by June 17-18."
Captain Jainarain Nishad, one of the most vocal JD (U) parliamentarians said, "If there is any guarantee of LK Advani remaining in the NDA as a force, the JD (U) may yet continue. If the consensus is that it is not guaranteed, there is little chance of the NDA surviving in Bihar. In any case, the JD (U) cannot remain a part of Narendra Modi-led NDA."
While the BJP members chose not to say anything on record in deference to the gathbandhan dharma (coalition compulsions), they admitted to the 'growing discomfort' level within the alliance in Bihar.
However, they dittoed Nishad's feeling that "LK Advani has been able to wrangle an assurance that the prime ministerial candidate would be named only in consultation with the coalition partners and in the party parliamentary board, would have assuaged the feelings of the JD (U) for now." They hoped, this would be enough for now to postpone the inevitable.
JD (U) leaders say the main problem in continuing with the alliance, however, comes with Narendra Modi handling and managing the BJP campaign affairs.
As the most vocal pro-Modi BJP leader in Bihar, animal husbandry minister, Giriraj Singh, believes,"If the break comes, it would be unfortunate to see the coalition evaporate. We have together led a successful government and solved many issues together. But if it comes to break, we are confident of doing better. I believe, the JD (U)'s brand of secularism is passe'. Modi's secularism of not pandering to one or other group but developing the whole, is the way to go." He added, "It is up to the JD (U) to take the call." Modi would campaign in Bihar, if he wants to. How can anyone stop him? Coalition politics does not mean that allies would object to our leaders campaigning anywhere."
That's a sore point with the JD (U), for the considered feeling is, "If Modi campaigns, he would polarise the electorate. But it's crucial for the JD (U) to retain the cutting edge Muslim votes, important to it to stay in the lead. Modi's campaigning would be irreparably damage that possibility to the advantage of the opposition, if the alliance remains intact till then."
Narendra Singh, the influential agricultural minister and a long time friend and consul of Nitish Kumar,however, said, "The signals are, that the coalition has ended".
He said, "It's difficult to breathe in this coalition given the circumstances. You can expect a decision within two to three days."
"JD-U," he added, "has held a principled stand that a communally tainted person cannot be the NDA leader or the Prime Minister. That could cost us. But we are prepared to pay the cost, rather than give up our considered stand and be blamed for opportunism."
Rajiv Ranjan Singh, a critical member of the JD-U think tank accepted, "The coalition is on the brink of a break. We cannot associate with the Narendra Modi brand of politics or the Godhra taint. In any case, we are against personality driven politics though we acquiesced to Atal Behari Vajpayee brand of politics while forming the coalition."
Chief minister, Nitish Kumar has avoided all media queries on the ongoing crisis, as have BJP big wigs like Sushil Kumar Modi and state BJP chief, Mangal Pandey--both cancelling media engagements at the last hour Tuesday, to avoid taking any position.
State BJP chief, Mangal Pandey said, "We have sacrificed to date to keep the alliance in place. If it breaks, it would be an insult to the Bihar mandate. I personally feel, the coalition should be strengthened, not brought down".
Pandey, however, expressed concern at JD (U) leaders defining Narendra Modi as a 'rioter'.
"I do not want to pick on such issues. Their expressions damage the coalition no end. We have restrained ourselves, since their authorised spokespersons are not involved. But some things that they say are highly objectionable", he said.
The main concern for both the BJP and the JD (U) is, whether a break would lead to an all-out effort at poaching to bring down the government or keep it in place, from either side.
The JD (U) would be constrained, should the Congress refuse to play ball, since there is less likelihood of BJP legislators crossing over, except for those who have won with direct JD (U) support.
Lalu Prasad's RJD would not be amenable to shore up the government despite having 22 legislators, especially after the Maharajganj win. That leaves only six independents who have a Congress-RJD background, beside the lone LJP seat.
The discomfort over the numbers is the main issue that confront the JD (U); and to a certain degree the BJP, as the alliance slips into the end game phase.