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Modi fires first shot at Nitish

After scoring a winning point in his own party, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi has geared himself to take on Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, whose party is the second largest constituent of National Democratic Alliance (NDA). In a well calculated move, while praising Bihar for providing political and spiritual leadership to the country in the past, he has blamed the caste politics of Bihar for its present state of backwardness.

Though he did not mention Nitish Kumar in his address, the message was crystal clear that he was going to belittle Nitish as a casteist leader. The statement of Modi has forced Nitish Kumar to make counter attack on him. Even JD(U) president Sharad Yadav has taken strong exception to the statement of Gujarat chief minister blaming caste politics for the backwardness of Bihar.

No one can deny that caste politics is the main reason for the backwardness of Bihar and this caste politics in not a recent phenomenon. Even prior to Independence, the political contours of Bihar were being determined by caste. Three peasantry castes (Yadav, Koeri and Kurmi) were fighting for their social advancement in the caste system and they have formed a joint forum named Triveni Sangam to fight for their upward social advancement. They could not achieve their objective during the period of British India, but after Independence, by virtue of their numerical strength and by consolidating the support of other marginalised castes in the name of social justice, they started dominating the politics of Bihar. With their political dominance, they ensured their social advancement within the caste order leaving other backward castes far behind. The fight for so called social justice was meant to eradicate caste system, but resulted into the social advancement of the three castes of Triveni Sangam within the caste order. It has further strengthened the caste system, where the number of dominant castes has risen to seven from four. In this process, many institutions of Bihar have got demolished and the problem of backwardness has further aggravated.

That is why what Modi said about Bihar is absolutely true. Nitish Kumar himself is the creation of caste politics of Bihar and he cannot dare to contest an election from a constituency where the number of his castemen is less. Nitish had understood the message contained in the speech of Modi and retaliated in an expected manner. There is a lot of similarity between Nitish and Modi. None of them can keep quiet in the face of criticism. Both have tendency to belittle others who belittle them. In fact, Nitish was belittling Modi for a long time by not allowing him to campaign for even Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidates in Bihar. It is a matter of surprise that Modi kept silent for so many years, but finally he has decided to take on him in his home state Bihar.

There is certainly a caste angle in the political relationship between Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar. Nitish is from an OBC caste of Bihar. Modi is facing Keshubhai Patel in Gujarat. In fact, Modi has made Keshubhai Patel irrelevant in Gujarat. The castemen of Nitish in Bihar believe Keshubhai to belong to their caste. It is significant to note that while Keshubhai Patel is the main rival of Modi in Gujarat politics, Nitish Kumar is his main rival within NDA politics and both of them are supposed to belong to the same caste. Narendra Modi has been made to believe by their close confidants that Nitish is dead against him not due to post Godhra events, but due to the marginalisation of Keshubhai and his community by him in the politics of Gujarat. So Modi finds Nitish pitted against him because of his caste politics.

There is another caste angle between their relation and that relates to the politics of Bihar. Lalu Prasad Yadav ruled Bihar with the help of OBC support. Now Nitish Kumar is doing the same with the support of OBCs. Non-Yadav OBCs have deserted Lalu in favour of Nitish. The problem for Nitish Kumar is that in caste ridden politics of Bihar, Modi, too, is considered an OBC man. Upper caste people have rallied behind Nitish because of their apathy to Lalu and because of Nitish's association with BJP. The mind of Nitish must be hounding over the prospect of BJP declaring Modi its top leader. Modi at the helm of BJP, the marginalised OBCs, who together form around 70 per cent of the total of OBC population, may move towards the saffron party in large number. Their alliance with upper castes during elections, may decimate Nitish Kumar, while Lalu with his Muslim-Yadav support base may hold some ground.  

Now a strange situation has arisen in NDA. One leader is calling another casteist and the other is calling him communal. How long will this situation continue? Anyone who knows the nature of Nitish would predict the breakdown of his relationship with BJP.

Nitish government can survive even without the help of BJP, because his Dal has 118 MLAs in house of 243 members. The deficit of four members can be filled with the help of independents or engineering defections from the opposition Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD). Nitish may save his government by breaking his relation with BJP, but it has major political ramifications for him. Firstly, his government will have to do a lot of ropewalking because of its razor thin majority in the house. Secondly, it will face a potent opposition in BJP with over 90 MLAs in Bihar assembly. Thirdly, the campaign of Modi may wean away marginalised OBCs from JD(U), because Modi himself is perceived to belong to a marginalised OBC in Bihar. Fourthly, larger sections of upper caste people have joined hands with Nitish because of his association with BJP. Once his association with BJP is over, their support to Nitish may also be over.

This is the reason why Nitish is showing patience while dealing with Modi. He would like to see the result of Gujarat assembly elections, which are due at the fag end of the year. He would like to see BJP getting defeated in Gujarat and the position of Modi weakened inside BJP. If neither happens, then the relationship of BJP and JD(U) is certainly in danger. 
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