Nitish Kumar has declared war against Narendra Modi, albeit without naming him, on the central issue of the Prime Ministerial nominee of the NDA. The Bihar chief minister has presented the BJP leadership with a most difficult task — count me out of the coalition from the moment you decide on handing over leadership to Modi, was an emphatic message he sent out today. His conditions are clear, a leader can only be one who is comfortable with Islamic skull cap and Hindu Tika, “jise topi bhi pahanana padega aur tika bhi lagala hoga”, a sharp negation of Modi who had refused to wear a skull cap during his Sadbhawna Yatra.
With his half hour long speech, the Janata Dal (U) leader at his party’s conclave in New Delhi, has inflicted the kind of damage to Modi that the entire might of the Congress party couldn’t do in the last so many years. Also it would potentially bring back the 2002, secular-communal debate back in focus on Modi, something that the Gujarat chief minister had laboured hard to put on the backburner in face of an aggressive development model and strong leadership.
If that was not enough, Nitish repeatedly pulled up the Gujarat model of development, “some would still be thinking and talking but Bihar gave 50 percent reservation to women in Panchayats in 2006 and urban bodies in 2007…..what kind of development model is this where malnutrition is an issue and people don’t get drinking water… Creation of infrastructure and putting of industries is fine but human index should also be looked at. Development with justice should be the guiding factor.”
Incidentally, Modi’s extended outings, taking position of a shadow Prime Minister began last weekend — from Ahmedabad, then to Delhi and Kolkata. It was no less symbolic, even if purely incidental, that this weekend Nitish too came to Delhi to hold his party’s national executive meeting, so that his message was understood well by people across the political spectrum. He used the occasion to communicate directly with those concerned, BJP president Rajnath Singh and Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley.
The time frame to decide for the BJP with a 'conditions apply' footnote, is by yearend, after the conclusion of assembly elections in key north Indian states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhatisgarh, Delhi and possibly Jharkhand. These are the states where the BJP and the Congress would be pitted head to head.
In a clear reference to Modi on why he could not qualify as the Prime Ministerial nominee of the opposition coalition, Nitish said kewal hawa banane se nahi hoga, manas ko samajhana hoga: "Mere atmospherics would not do, the leader will have to understand the psyche of the people of a diverse multi-religious and multi-lingual country like India. His personality should be such that could encompass this diversity. The one who could love, have affection, brotherhood and ability to respect others, the one who could wear skull cap and put a Tika with same élan.” According to him and his party President Sharad Yaadav, Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the one who was a walking manifestation of all these qualities and therefore he could attract so many allies.
There is, however, no clarity on what happens in case parliamentary elections are advanced to October-November, held along with assembly elections. Sources told Firstpost that the BJP was unlikely to name a candidate in a hurry and there was a growing view in the party, even before Nitish could set his conditions yesterday and today before the BJP, that it should not rush to declare a PM candidate before elections and take the call on the subject depending on kind of numbers that it gets in the polls. Though a section of the party and Bihar BJP leaders are inclined to sever ties with Nitish and are itching to go it alone in Bihar, the other influential view is, why begin preparedness for 2014 with NDA Minus when it should be working for NDA Plus.
Nitish’s words were music to the ears of the Congress. Not because he was critical of Modi but also because, Nitish did not speak of a single sentence on or against Congress in his entire address at his party’s conclave ostensibly organized on how the party should expand its base and could play a bigger role in national politics. Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tiwari, Minister of state for Parliamentary affairs Rajeev Shukla were quick to fire at Modi from Nitish’s shoulder. Other Congress leaders too joined the bandwagon.
But both Nitish and Sharad Yadav realize JD(U) the value of being an old ally of the BJP and holding the post of NDA convener since the time of its inception. Earlier it was George Fernandes who held this position and its Sharad Yadav who holds this position. It was thus time for both them to recall the virtues of alliance and how well the alliance had progressed for last 17 years, as also the written commitment made by Vajpayee and LK Advani. The National Agenda as Yadav called it, reflected on three contentious ideological issues of Sangh Parivar -- keeping at bay Uniform Civil Code, Article 370 and solution to Ayodhya Ram Mandir issue either through a court verdict or through negotiated settlement.
“The NDA alliance government is running perfectly fine in Bihar for last seven years. We consult each other on all issues and have trust. If ever a contentious issue comes up where we have divergent opinion, we sit together respect other’s views and reach a conclusion. We won a historic second term mandate, winning 209 out of a total 243 assembly seats and 32 out of 40 parliamentary seats without any externally funded political support (Modi). But if everything is going fine and there is a sudden surprise that could spoil the good sport then some fundamentals have to be made clear”, Nitish said, setting the terms of continuance of alliance.
The impression that he gave was that an indirect projection of Modi had changed the terms of the alliance that he and his party had got into with Vajpayee-Advani 17 years ago. It was also an indirect message to the RSS that dictate the BJP on ideological issues. The alliance partners were comfortable dealing with BJP as central pole of the opposition when on issues of governance and polity, not ideology.
Before Nitish closed his speech, he repeated his warning in clear terms, “If our opinion is ignored then what do we do. Just as life is uncertain, being part of alliance would become uncertain. If the engine is derailed then we will accordingly respond to the situation, without compromising on our basic fundamentals.” He does not want to leave with tag of an aggressor but of a victim. The question is, will the BJP oblige him? For now that’s an unlikely situation but a trust deficit has been created.
Updated Date: Apr 14, 2013 18:14 PM