Once bitten, never coy!
Ever since Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar severed JD (U)’s 17-yearold ties with the BJP nearly one and half months back, the state has been pushed into a phase of uncertainty with each party re-working the strategy in the post-split situation to strengthen its respective position in the run up to the 2014 Lok Sabha election.As all major political players, JD (U), BJP, RJD and Congress, are facing one challenge after another in view of the politico-social reconfiguration under the post-split situation, the minority vote bank holds the key to Nitish Kumar’s success.
Kumar had snapped ties with the BJP on the issue of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi’s elevation to the position of the mascot of the saffron party.Kumar had been highly successful in maintaining the secular identity of his government despite the fact that the BJP was a part of his government. With little hope to get support from the upper caste voters in the coming elections, Kumar is trying hard to expand his support base among the minority communities to make up for the losses. JD (U) member of Parliament (MP) and a prominent leader of Pasmanda Muslims, Ali Anwar says that 80 per cent Muslims are Pasmandas and the majority of them have great faith in Kumar’s leadership.The chief minister has also launched several minority welfare programmes during his regime to woo Muslim voters who still support RJD chief Lalu Prasad in huge numbers. It is yet to be seen who emerges as the darling of the minorities - Nitish Kumar or Lalu Prasad.
Impact of the split on the JD (U) is yet to be fully felt
The problems for Nitish Kumar are no less in the post-split scenario. His major challenge remains how to expand his ministry when a large number of JD (U) members of legislative assembly (MLAs) are vying for 18 ministerial berths which were earlier held by the BJP ministers. It is understood that the chief minister has assured a good number of his party MLAs of the ministerial berths to contain discontentment among them. The BJP does not miss any opportunity to take a dig at Nitish Kumar for holding many portfolios ever since the BJP-JD (U) split.Former deputy chief minister Sushil Modi often claims that the JD (U) will suffer a vertical split if Nitish Kumar attempts cabinet expansion. Nitish Kumar, however, questions why BJP leaders should be so worried about the cabinet expansion when the state is being well governed without them.‘If they are really so serious, they should re-join the government after seeking apology from the people,’ he quips. Though the JD (U) is not witnessing an open rebellion against Nitish Kumar, the way BJP leaders had sounded a bugle of revolt against the state party leadership, an uneasy calm prevails in the JD (U) camp too.Since Kumar wields power in the state and can offer benefits to disgruntled party leaders, the anguish of the JD (U) leaders has not yet become that visible. Kumar also apparently faces a dilemma over his party’s alliance with the Congress as it is commonly debated whether he will join hands with the Congress prior to the election in view of his bitter remarks against the grand old party during the pre-split period.But if the JD (U) does not enter into an alliance with the Congress, the party will be left without any major poll plank other than continuing with its tirade against Narendra Modi. The Nitish Kumar government has also started facing the anti-incumbency factor and the BJP is very smartly trying to corner the state government for all its failures, so that the people find fault with the JD (U) alone and not with the BJP which was a part of the government till sometime back.
BJP stands bruised by split
Though almost all parties are grappling with some sort of discontentment, the BJP is facing the worst situation as a good number of party MLAs and leaders have ganged up against former state deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi. Not surprisingly, Modi downplays all these dissenting voices of his party leaders stating that the rebellion is limited to a few and it is also natural to have one or two rebel leaders in any party the size of the BJP.The BJP suspended its MLA Amarnath Gami who had accused Modi of adopting a ‘dictatorial’ approach in running the party affairs. He was also full of praise for Nitish Kumar, wanting to see him as the next Prime Minister. He is not the only BJP leader singing paeans to the Bihar chief minister as BJP legislators Rana Gangeshwar Singh and Vijay Kumar Mishra also followed suit.
Similarly, former BJP MLC Ramkishore Singh also quit the party but not before publicly expressing doubt about Narendra Modi’s quality of leadership. He had also praised Nitish Kumar for being ‘PM material’.Sulking BJP MP Shatrughan Sinha’s praise for Nitish Kumar and his insistence that Narendra Modi should not be declared as the BJP Prime Ministerial candidate without the blessings of the party patriarch LK Advani has been a cause of major embarrassment for the BJP.Ramkishore Singh has said that at least eight to 10 MLAs had been awarded party tickets by the BJP in the last assembly election only due to the ‘blessing’ of Nitish Kumar and hence these MLAs had not managed to come out from his shadow even after the BJP-JD (U) split. Similarly, about 30 to 40 BJP MLAs romped to victory in the 2010 election primarily on the strength of Nitish Kumar’s popularity and their role in the 2014 general election will be keenly watched.
RJD further marginalised
The RJD is another party which has been impacted due to the split between the BJP and JD (U). As the uncertainty over the RJD chief Lalu Prasad’s possible arrest in connection with a fodder scam case continues to haunt the party, Lalu’s major concern remains whether the Congress will dump him in a bid to enter into an alliance with the JD (U). The RJD has apparently clung to the Congress in a move, primarily seen as an attempt to pre-empt the chance of JD (U) entering into any sort of alliance with the Congress. The RJD has joined the Jharkhand government with the same purpose. Lalu used to claim that a secular front government, comprising JMM, Congress and RJD will be formed in the mineral-rich state much before Hemant Soren was actually sworn in.After its victory in the Maharajganj by-election, the RJD which, also got a good chunk of upper caste votes wants to change its image, trying to dispel the notion that it is anti-forward castes.On the issue of secularism too, the RJD wants to project itself more secular than the JD (U). Senior RJD leader Abdul Bari Sidiqqui says that the RJD is pitted against two BJPs - one owing allegiance to Narendra Modi, the other to LK Advani. This has created doubts among the Muslim voters whether the JD (U) will return to the NDA fold if Narendra Modi is not made Prime Minister in the event of the BJP-led NDA getting requisite numbers in the election.To counter this propaganda, Nitish Kumar has gone out of his way to claim that the JD (U) will not have any alliance with the BJP in future.
Cong tries to revive itself
The Congress is now trying to find some space in the post-split situation but it is still unclear which way it will go before the general election. State Congress president Ashok Choudhary has said that there isno talk between the Congress and JD (U) leaders at any level for exploring the potential of forging an alliance before the election.The Congress knows well that Nitish Kumar can ill-afford to annoy the party at a time when the chief minister requires largesse for implementing various development schemes in the state and also to fight the anti-incumbency factor which has started working against his government.
Apparently taking a cue from the RJD, which ruled the state for 15 long years, by creating a vote share of nearly 27 per cent for itself, the JD (U) has also concentrated on winning the confidence of Mahadalits, EBCs, minorities and the caste neutral women constituency to consolidate its position by launching various welfare programmes for them. The Nitish Kumar government had reserved 50 per cent seats for women in the Panchayati Raj institutions soon after coming to the power in November 2005.