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Future tense for Nitish?

JD(U) leaders feel the party has no option but to quit NDA, given the Gujarat CM’s rise

india Updated: Jun 11, 2013 12:15 IST
Mammen Matthew

With Narendra Modi just one step — however big that may be — away from being the face, and the prime ministerial candidate, of the BJP in the 2014 elections after his elevation as the party’s poll panel chief at the Goa conclave on Sunday, ally JD(U) and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar figure among the worried.

The question Kumar faces is will he — or rather should he — play ball with the saffron party in Bihar?

Although JD(U) spokesperson Devesh Thakur announced on Sunday that Modi’s elevation was an internal matter of the BJP, he had made it very clear that his party was not keen on accepting Modi as the NDA’s PM nominee.

Bihar chief minister and JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar said Narendra Modi is “not acceptable” as PM as he is “not secular”. On April 17, Kumar had issued an ultimatum to the BJP to declare a secular PM candidate by December-end or face a JD(U) walkout from the NDA.

“Having come this far in his opposition to Modi, a climb-down is not an option for Kumar anymore. It is crystal clear that the NDA will split but the timing will be Kumar’s. It could be now or later. JD(U) president Sharad Yadav wants the alliance retained till Modi is actually nominated. But no one knows Kumar’s mind,” said a JD(U) leader.

Party spokesman, Niraj Kumar said on Sunday, “BJP president Rajnath Singh called to say the issue of PMship would be taken in consultation with NDA allies post polls. That meets JD(U) concerns for now.”

But JD(U) leaders in Patna admit to being “worried” by the recent developments within the BJP and there is brainstorming like never before on where the JD(U) could go from here.

“The Maharajganj (Lok Sabha byelection) defeat of the JD(U) to the RJD by 1,37,000 votes at a time when Modi won two Lok Sabha bypolls and four assembly constituencies in Gujarat could not have come at a worse time,” one of them said.

While Kumar has dismissed the Maharajganj result as “insignificant” because it was an RJD seat anyway, JD(U) leader Shivanand Tiwary said, “An analysis for reasons of the defeat is imperative. We cannot wish it away.”

Said a seasoned JD(U) leader, “Had the Maharajganj bypoll been held in isolation and not with the Gujarat bypolls, the fallout would have been local, not national. The results bolstered Modi’s stature as a claimant to prime ministership within the BJP while Kumar lost an advantage nationally.”

“The Maharajganj result wiped out the historical animus between the Rajput and Yadav castes to favour the RJD, which adds to the worry,” said a senior JD(U) leader, who added that there was a larger worry.

So far, the Congress has been courting the JD(U) in the belief that if the NDA splits, the JD(U) could be an ally. Kumar’s demand for a special status for Bihar could have been re-worked to the state’s advantage.

But, he said, now that Lalu Prasad’s RJD has been able to re-wire the traditional caste construct to forge a resounding win, the Congress could play Prasad against Kumar. That takes away the JD(U)’s edge of keeping the BJP on tenterhooks and opens it to larger discomfort within the NDA.

While both the BJP and JD(U) realise that their combined hold on a unique caste configuration – as of now – puts the NDA ahead of its rivals for 2014, the current situation doesn’t allow the alliance to flourish.

Fighting separately, the BJP and JD(U) could find themselves pitched against a combine led by the Congress and Prasad, besides Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP and the Left, arraigned against them. All this could shear a significant number of seats from the saffron party and affect Modi’s chances of becoming PM.

And, obviously, this uncertainty among the NDA constituents suits the Congress, as it holds all the aces in Bihar at this point of time.