It’s not yet endgame in Bihar
The resignation of Janata Dal (United) president Sharad Yadav as the convenor of National Democratic Allaince (NDA) on Sunday and walking out of his party from the longest-serving anti-Congress front for some could effectively mark end of an era in Indian politics which saw rise of coalition governments and also a metamorphosis in the nature and shape of Indian federal structure.
The idiot box analysts have been quick to see the development in the context of number game in 2014 Lok Sabha polls and 2015 Bihar polls. The development, however, will have larger fallout. NDA was visualised by a statesman like Atal Bihari Vajpayee as an all accommodating liberal federation giving space to its allies, however big or small, in equal measure. No wonder at its peak the NDA had 24 member parties, which now has shrunk to just three.
Through the 1990s, the duo of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani managed to create an effective counter to the Congress, which culminated in the formation of the NDA government. The two managed to do it so well because they defined their respective roles within the party and also there was no public clamour for larger share in the power pie between the two.
They also created a team of political leaders which could do the bidding for them. And importantly, at no point of time in their long and distinguished careers did the two allow their personal ego override the party agenda.
They managed to forge the alliance by roping in effective leaders from the Socialist stream to act as their ambassador, where their direct intervention was not desirable. The energetic George Fernandes effortlessly fitted into the role of the convenor of the alliance. He could hold forth with Farooq Abdullah, Naveen Patnaik, Chandrababu Naidu, J Jayalalitha and Mamata Banerjee with equal ease and self-assurance as he could with Vajpayee and Advani. He even foisted a Samata Party chief minister in Manipur – Radha Madhav Koijam.
Today the BJP leadership lacks both the energy and the stature to attract the regional allies to its fold. In the past few years, the edifice of the NDA frayed at regular interval with no visible attempt to arrest the decay. Even during the period preceding the walkout of the JD (U) from the NDA, no senior leader from the BJP made an attempt to repair the ranks.
In the past years the party has also not tried to restore relations with their able ally in Odisha – Naveen Patnaik. Nor has there been any worthwhile interaction with other possible partners like Chandrababu Naidu in Andhra Pradesh, Babulal Marandi in Jharkhand and for that matter J Jayalalitha in Tamil Nadu. The absence of diplomacy in maintaining relationship with the allies is leading the saffron party once again to the state of political isolation, a most unfortunate development for politics at large. Vajpayee achieved stature of statesman, as mentioned earlier, by encouraging regional allies to play role of political protagonists. In 2000, he chose to make Nitish Kumar the face of the NDA in Bihar ahead of the claims of his party leaders like Shatrughan Sinha, Yashwant Sinha or for that matter his close friend Kailashpati Mishra, the late patriarch of Bihar BJP.
In 2000 assembly elections, Janata Dal (United) had just 21 seats whereas the BJP had 67 seats, yet Nitish Kumar was made chief minister by Vajpayee for those turbulent eight days, effectively anointing him as leader of the NDA in the state. This investment helped reap rich harvest for both the parties. Today JD (U) has 118 MLAs and BJP 91 in the house with a total seat of 243.
It’s difficult to say who benefitted more from this arrangement – the BJP or the JD(U). The charisma of Nitish Kumar as administrator was no less exceptional than his role as moulder of strategy using both traditional and modern paradigms, which resulted in extraordinary coordination with the BJP and eventual pulling-off of a historic win.
Even during his first term as the chief minister Nitish Kumar kept BJP on tenterhooks but the poll strategist in him saw merit in retaining the saffron party as partner during the 2010 assembly polls. While Nitish Kumar vociferously ensured Narendra Modi’s non-presence in Bihar, he quietly wooed and harnessed the strength of his partner party to the benefit of the alliance.
He saw what everybody else missed – emergence of the BJP stronger from the poll. The exploitation of the strength of BJP by Nitish Kumar to spur his political campaign was the story of the 2010 polls.
Then what’s it which has made Nitish Kumar dump the BJP? Allowing more space for JD(U) while participating in the process of government formation at the Centre in 2014 post-Lok Sabha polls and retaining a dominating position for his party when it goes for assembly polls in 2015 in alliance with whosoever. JD(U) has both numbers and time at hand to plot its next move.
It doesn’t have any stake in the upcoming assembly polls in the four states, whereas the charisma of Narendra Modi will be on trial. If the BJP fails to perform credibly, the friends of Nitish Kumar in BJP could extend a hand holding an olive branch. As the prime minister said, in politics there are no permanent friends or foes.
Sidharth Mishra is with Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice, and is Consulting Editor, Millennium Post