The National Democratic Alliance’s (NDA) first show of strength went off quite well on Sunday. It managed to showcase its pantheon of leaders, and, it would hope, lay to rest all talk of fleeing friends and allies.
Bihar chief minister and the man every alliance is fighting to get, Nitish Kumar, 58, did not only attend but attacked his strongest suitor yet, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance, over flood relief.
And, to end all talk of feeling fidgety, Kumar clasped hands with BJP’s poster boy and Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, 59, for the cameras. He had earlier said he didn’t feel the need to share a stage with Modi.
The NDA’s message was clearly this: we are united. And growing. Telengana Rashtra Samiti chief Chandrashekhar Rao, 55, was there having deserted – very suddenly — the Left-led Third Front.
“We lost one ally but got five,” said BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate L.K. Advani, 81. The ally lost was Biju Janata Dal’s Naveen Patnaik, 62, and the allies won were Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) and TRS.
The rally was hosted by the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) that is in power in Punjab. And here are the leaders who showed up: NDA convenor Sharad Yadav, 61, BJP president Rajnath Singh, 58, and Sushma Swaraj, 57, SAD chief Parkash Singh Badal, 81, and his son Sukhbir Singh Badal, 46, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, 50, Shiv Sena’s Manohar Joshi, 71, INLD chief Om Prakash Chautala, 74, RLD chief Ajit Singh, 70, Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa, 66, AGP’s Chandramohan Patwari, 50, and GJM’s Bimal Gurung, 44.
Sharad Yadav declared: “UPA main bhagdar machi hui hai (there is mayhem in UPA).” He was possibly referring to the sub-alliance within the UPA of Lalu Yadav, 61, and Ram Vilas Paswan, 62.
In an obvious bid to make it clear he was with the NDA, Nitish Kumar attacked the UPA government over the last floods in Bihar.
“Just 20 minutes after the polls in Bihar ended just days back, we received a fax from the Centre asking us to return the money given for flood relief,” he said.
Chandrashekhar Rao sought to please his new friends: “The NDA will come to power. We will support the NDA and also try to rope in more friends.” Then, turning to Advani, he said: “You will surely become PM. Please create Telangana and address the grievances of the people of the region.”
And then there was the Afzal Guru issue. Modi said, “When a Khalistani supporter petitioned for mercy when held guilty of General Vaidya’s murder, the Rajiv Cabinet took 10 minutes to give its nod to the death sentence. But in the case of Afzal Guru, the government has dragged its feet. Is it not because there was no vote bank to be appeased in the former case while there is a vote bank in Afzal Guru’s case?” he asked.
And then Tamil Nadu, which polls in the fifth and final phase on May 13. Modi said that while the prime minister felt that Ottavio Quattrocchi was innocent and should not be troubled, it had done nothing for innocent Sri Lankan Tamils.
Ridiculing Karunanidhi’s fast, he said: “This will be remembered as the only fast that began after breakfast and ended before lunch.”
The 1984 anti-Sikh riots also came up as can be expected at any rally in Sikh-dominated Punjab. “The Congress made the riot accused ministers and MPs instead of punishing them,” charged Sukhbir Singh Badal.
It was an impressive show of strength. But why did it come so late, towards the end of Elections 2009?