Tactical retreat? Nitish does a U-turn on PM candidate

Feb 7, 2013 17:01 IST

By Manoj Kumar

Patna: Is Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar making a tactical shift in his position on the issue of the NDA's prime minister candidate for 2014? There is clear indication that he is.

Doing a U-turn on its earlier position, the Janata Dal (U) yesterday demanded that the NDA announce its prime ministerial candidate only after the parliamentary elections are held. Till recently, Nitish had been asking the BJP to reveal its prime ministerial candidate before the 2014 general elections so that voters know who they are electing.

"There must not be early projection of any prime minister candidate by the NDA before the next LS elections as that will only create controversies and cause splits within the NDA alliance which will ultimately benefit the UPA," JD(U)’s national executive member and deputy chairman of the Bihar State Planning Board Harikishore Singh told a press conference in Patna last evening.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. Image courtesy PIB

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. Image courtesy PIB

"Anyone who is making such a demand is, in fact, trying to help Congress’s Munnaji (referring to Rahul Gandhi),” said Singh while also pitching for Nitish for the top job. "Pehle kunji to le lein; phir PM candidate ka faisala ho (Let the alliance first register a win and then a PM candidate should be decided by the NDA)," declared Singh, who is considered close to the chief minister.

Singh, who served as the minister of state for external affairs in the VP Singh government in the 90s, made this statement after meeting senior BJP leader LK Advani at the latter's residence in New Delhi on Tuesday. "Advaniji gave a patient hearing to my proposal and welcomed it," Singh told the media, but parried queries as to why the JD(U) made a complete U-turn on its earlier demand.

The move assumes significance in the sense that Modi’s declaration as NDA’s prime ministerial candidate remains just a matter of time given the increasing demand within the BJP, the VHP and also the RSS for it. Only yesterday, Modi reached out to the country’s vast youth brigade through his speech at Shri Ram College of Commerce in New Delhi. It was his first such major appearance in the national capital after winning the Gujarat assembly polls for the third time in a row. His speech came on a day when VHP leader Ashok Singhal, speaking at a gathering of Sangh leaders at Maha Kumbh, compared Modi to Jawaharlal Nehru in terms of popularity.

Political observers say Nitish, who, of late, has been facing myriad problems on his home turf, just does not want to antagonise the BJP by staying inflexible in his demand. Also, he has realised that Modi’s stature has grown too big in recent years and thus the growing demands within the BJP to project Modi for the top post is not mere coincidence. The problem for Nitish right now is to get his house in order ahead of next year’s Lok Sabha polls. The opposition parties such as the RJD and LJP, who were dormant so far, have become active and are trying hard to capitalise on the public disenchantment with the Bihar government.

This is not the right time for him to walk out of the NDA and if he does it over Modi, it could backfire. "The JD(U) strategy for declaring the PM candidate after the polls, even though it happens to be Modi, in fact, suits both - the JD(U) and the BJP. If that happens, Nitish will have no problem staying with the NDA and his Muslim votes also will not be disturbed. On the other hand, a united NDA will be in a better position to take on the opposition parties and check divisions of votes," one observer said

The development comes shortly after Nitish denied that he ever made any demand to the BJP for the declaration of its PM candidate in advance early this week. He was quoted by a leading Hindi daily as having done so. The chief minister’s denial surprised many, even his supporters. "The chief minister did not give any interview to Dainik Bhaskar," said a written statement issued by the Public Relations Officer of the chief minister on Sunday, referring to a private news channel running the story on its site quoting the daily. This is the second time in quick succession that the chief minister was forced to issue denials.

Has Nitish surrendered to the inevitable? Or is it a tactical withdrawal? Difficult to gauge at this point.