Lok Sabha elections 2019: Impact of JD (U)’s special status demand
The JD(U) raised the demand for the special category status to Bihar in the final stages of the 17th Lok Sabha polls.Updated: May 18, 2019 07:50 IST
Just when Bihar chief minister and Janata Dal (United) supremo, Nitish Kumar, seemed to have reconciled to playing second fiddle to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), his party sprang a surprise.
Having been silent during the first five phases on an issue that is close to Kumar’s heart and remained his key talking point in all the elections since 2005, the JD(U) raised the demand for the special category status to Bihar in the final stages of the 17th Lok Sabha polls.
Senior JD(U) leader, KC Tyagi, told a news conference in Patna last week that the party would make a fresh pitch for its longstanding demand if his party gets 15 Lok Sabha seats in the ongoing elections.
As part of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the JD(U) is contesting on 17 of the 40 seats in Bihar with the BJP fighting on 17 and the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) on the remaining six.
A special category status ensures special economic packages and tax concessions, among other facilities, to help faster growth of backward states.
The opposition Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) immediately latched on to Tyagi’s remarks.
“Nitish Kumar will use the special category status issue to desert the BJP once again. He has started preparing the ground,” the party tweeted on its official handle on May 15.
RJD leader, Tejashwi Yadav, too, took a jibe at the Bihar chief minister, alleging that Kumar is looking for an opportunity to once again dump the BJP. “He is trying to find the reason for leaving the BJP and the ground for that could be the demand for the special category status to Bihar,” Tejashwi tweeted the same day.
The Congress agreed with its alliance partner and pointed to a viral video of a public meeting at Darbhanga on April 25 in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other BJP leaders got up to chant ‘Vande Mataram and Bharat Mata ki Jai” while Kumar remained seated.
“Nitish Kumar is in a dilemma. He is talking about the national security but has a different take on Article 370, communalism, triple talaq and Uniform Civil Code. We can’t rule out (the fact that) he may switch sides again and we have to wait till May 23 [the day votes are counted] for his next move,” Congress spokesperson, Prem Chand Mishra, said.
Political analyst, DM Diwakar, of Patna-based AN Sinha Institute of Social Studies said Kumar is keeping his options open and creating a space for himself by raising the special category status issue. “If the BJP doesn’t get the requisite numbers and if his party is in a position to play a role in next government formation, he will switch sides,” added Diwakar. But JD(U) spokesperson, Neeraj Kumar, said special status is the stated position of his party. “This is also the expectation of the people of Bihar. There is no politics in it,” he said.
Coinciding with the special status issue came a statement from senior JD(U) leader, Gulam Rasool Balyawi, that if the NDA wants to return to power in 2019, they have to put Kumar at the forefront of the campaign.
The BJP-led NDA government rule has, however, maintained that Bihar would not be granted the state special category status.
Tejashwi on many occasions has sought to create a wedge between the BJP and the JD(U) by pointing out to the “contradictions” within the NDA. Both Tejashwi and RJD supremo, Lalu Prasad, have often mocked Kumar for his repeated political somersaults.
Kumar had taken a moral high ground in June 2013 while breaking his 17-year-old ties with the BJP over the naming of Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate for 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
However, in July 2017, Kumar wholeheartedly thanked Modi for congratulating him over his decision to resign as the chief minister of Mahagathbandhan over allegations of corruption against Prasad’s family members.
For five phases in the current elections, Kumar extensively campaigned on PM Narendra Modi’s popularity, the BJP’s muscular nationalism, decisive action against terrorism, restoring India’s pride globally and national security.
Diwakar said Kumar is playing a smart game and in case the JD(U) doesn’t perform well in the elections, he could easily shift the blame to Modi and the BJP.
“If BJP blames him for the losses, he could turn back and say that they had fought the elections in Modi’s name,” he said.
However, another political analyst, Shaibal Gupta, a founder member-secretary of Asian Development Research Institute in Patna, said the “moral hegemony” of Kumar in 2013 has become diluted in 2019. “When he came back to NDA, he thought he would get the same respect from the BJP he got in 2013. But that respect is not forthcoming now. Even in the election campaign, BJP clearly comes out as the dominant partner though he did salvage some pride by getting 17 seats in the seat sharing,” he said.
But another JD(U) leader, Sanjay Gandhi, dismissed the talk of Kumar playing second fiddle to the BJP. “Since we are fighting the national elections, it is obvious that Nitishji will talk about the achievements of Modiji and the ultimate aim is to win all the 40 seats for the NDA in Bihar,” he said.