Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar likely to go it alone as BJP set to nominate Narendra Modi as Prime Ministerial candidate
With the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) almost deciding to go with Narendra Modi as its Prime Ministerial candidate and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar’s veiled yet open annoyance, all eyes are fixed on whether the 17-year-long alliance between BJP and Janata Dal (U) will end, or what wily move Nitish Kumar will take in days to come.
Will he be playing footsie with Congress or he will wait to see if the BJP decides to change its mind? We should not forget that BJP leader LK Advani has not yet ruled himself out of the PM’s race within party. Will Janata Dal (U)’s Nitish Kumar explore the possibilities of creating a separate political bloc along with Bengal and Orissa counterparts – at least 100 Lok Sabha – seats or he will extend his issue-based support the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and be saddled for five more years in Bihar? Or could the imminent break-up prove fatal for both and box JD-U and BJP, providing an opportunity for opposition parties to flourish in Bihar? There are more questions than answers these days.
The million dollar question is what will happen if both the NDA partners part ways in the Parliamentary poll scheduled to be held in April-May 2014?
Despite the popular belief and the party’s own assessment that the BJP will not be loser if Nitish Kumar opts out of the alliance, the ground realities and facts suggest otherwise. The upper castes are behind BJP, but its because of Nitish Kumar’s support it also got votes from the lower and loser middle castes, as well as minority votes – winning a 39 percent share of votes in the state. The JD-U won 22.61 per cent while BJP received 16.46 per cent of votes respectively.
There is also a possibility that if the alliance splits a section of the upper caste votes too will go to Nitish Kumar’s side as we’ve seen happening with the BJD in Orissa. A section of the upper caste could even support Nitish Kumar out of fear of the return of Lalu Prasad Yadav and his “jungle raj” in the state. In his seven years in power in Bihar Nitish Kumar has been carefully nursing a section of upper caste, Bhumihar, doling plum posts and positions to bureaucrats and politicians coming from this caste segment. The Bhumihars in Bihar are considered as a politically aggressive caste capable of influencing poll prospects significantly. In the early days the Nitish regime was popularly referred by many as Bhusashan—rule of Bhumihars.
So, in case of both parties contesting the poll separately Nitish Kumar may have the last laugh with his social engineering paying off handsome electoral returns.
But it won’t be plain sailing for Bihar chief minister and JD-U leader Kumar. The imminent split has the potential to cost him dearly. The BJP had contested only 102 seats out of the total 243 seats and had got a 16.46 percent voteshare. And unlike other parties the voteshare of the BJP has been constant at 13-15 percent in the last decade. Upper castes are mainly concentrated in the Mithila, Kosi and Magadh regions with very thick concentration in the districts of Patna, Bhagalpur, Gaya, Aurangabad, Darbhanga, Madhubani, Samastipur and Gopalganj. These political constituencies have been a stronghold of BJP for a long time and it will quite difficult for Nitish Kumar to make a dent in this impregnable fort of the saffron party.
Furthermore Kumar did not received the 17 percent Muslim votes in the last assembly poll and a minor swing in the vote pattern could be dangerous for him. The anti-Narendra Modi vote on which Nitish Kumar apparently is banking on will also go to other parties like RJD-LJP and Congress. Together RJD-LJP and Congress comes around 34 percent of voteshare, just 4-5 percent short of the NDA alliance vote share.
There are certain facts at local level which the political pundits outside the state have failed to notice. The BJP in Bihar is a divided house: one side is led by party leader and deputy chief minister Shushil Kumar Modi and the other supported by Narendra Modi. In the last seven years of power sharing, many in Bihar believe Shushil Modi has done more harm to BJP than even Nitish Kumar or the Opposition. Shushil Modi not only tried to follow Nitish Kumar in every turn but apparently has surrendered the heart and soul of the party at Kumar’s feet to remain at number two in the state. Many believe that a split will prompt Shushil Modi to join Nitish Kumar. Interestingly, soon after the BJP central leadership came out with fitting reply to Nitish Kumar’s speech at his party’s recen national executive meet in Delhi, some of the Bihar BJP leaders in the Narendra Modi camp flew off to meet party president Rajnath Singh urging a “do or die battle” with Nitish Kumar. The party president told them to be patient and wait for the opportune time to come.
The faction-riddled BJP in Bihar could play into Nitish Kumar’s hands if he goes alone in the poll contesting all the 40 Lok Sabha seats. If Nitish Kumar stood with the BJP he could not get more than 20 seats, but contesting all 40 seats party pundits believe he could win as many as 30. And having mores seats in his kitty Nitish Kumar will be able to play longer and smarter in his gameplan of national politics with more bargaining power with whoever wil be at the centre: NDA or UPA. The common perception in Bihar is that Nitish Kumar will prefer to go alone if BJP sings the Narendra Modi mantra and consider possible alliances after the elections. Others believe the split will only benefit the opposition.
“Nitish Kumar may find himself at number three position,” said a Bihar BJP leader.
At this stage the one thing that is clear is that Kumar would prefer to go alone in the poll if Narendra Modi finally is declared as the BJP’s PM candidate. In his hate of Narendra Modi, Nitish Kumar has gone to the point of no return. But until that declaration is made he will be watching and waiting. And who knows the game of possibilities in politics better than Nitish Kumar, who waited 15 years years to dethrone his arch-rival Lalu Prasad in Bihar. The great political drama has just begun and there is a lot more to be seen in days to come.