Political turmoil in the offing

The coming presidential elections may see a realignment of equations both in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the ruling Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA). Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar-led Janata Dal (United), a constituent of the NDA, is not happy with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), particularly the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) support to projection of the Gujarat chief minister, Narendra Modi, as the prime ministerial candidate in the run up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

The Congress is apparently using the presidential contest to woo Kumar as insurance for 2014 polls. The Bihar chief minister has snubbed Modi for nurturing prime ministerial ambition and he is backed by deputy chief minister Sushil Modi, belonging to the BJP. The Congress has successfully driven a wedge in the NDA in the run up to the presidential poll. Not only the BJP’s oldest ally – the Shiv Sena but Kumar too have extended support to the Congress party’s presidential candidate, Pranab Mukherjee.  While Shiv Sena may not walk out of the NDA, Nitish Kumar is more inclined to switch over to the Congress-led UPA, if the RSS persists in projecting Modi as prime ministerial candidate.

The Congress has successfully opened several back-channel communication line with Kumar and the efforts have borne fruit. Kumar declared unequivocal support to Mukherjee in the coming presidential polls. The Congress consistently got encouraging signals from the JD(U) with the party president Sharad Yadav and national spokesman, Shivanand Tewari, extending support to the UPA presidential nominee. After disagreeing with the BJP over its stand on the presidential candidate, Nitish Kumar observed that the name of the prime ministerial candidate should be made public well before the next Lok Sabha election. More significantly, he said, the nominee for the PM’s post should be fully secular with a liberal frame of mind.  

Kumar’s stand is being viewed as a calculated move to forewarn the BJP against projecting Modi as the prime ministerial candidate. The fragile BJP-JD(U) relations were bound to come under further strain as a result of Kumar’s forthright statement. More so, when Modi is emerging as the saffron party’s prime ministerial candidate.

As if echoing views of Kumar, his deputy, Sushil Modi said the NDA’s prime ministerial candidate should be as liberal as Atal Behari Vajpayee, who would be acceptable to all sections of the society. His remarks have evidently embarrassed the BJP, who is bent upon projecting Modi as the prime ministerial candidate. Taking advantage of the situation law minister Salman Khurshid observed, 'Kumar said the PM should be secular. I am 100 per cent in agreement with him'. Kumar has already excellent rapport with three senior Congress leaders – Mukherjee, rural development minister, Jairam Ramesh and Ahmed Patel, advisor to Sonia Gandhi. Ramesh has been very liberal in sanctioning several Bihar projects. Unlike Mamata Banerjee, right through the nomination of its presidential candidate, the Congress managed to be touch with Kumar and his party’s senior leaders.

As Kumar came close the Congress, Mamata Banerjee moved away from it. When the UPA unanimously nominated Mukherjee as its presidential candidate, Trinamool Congress, despite being in the ruling coalition at the centre, opposed the choice and pitched for A P J Abdul Kalam as its candidate. The Trinamool Congress, second largest constituent of the UPA, is ready to quit the union cabinet if it finds that sticking to the alliance is no longer conducive.

Senior Trinamool Congress leader, Sudip Bandopadhyay diplomatically put it –his party would not opt out of the coalition but its ministers are mentally prepared to quit UPA cabinet anytime if they think situation is no more conducive.

The NDA has formally split on the presidential election with BJP backing P A Sangma so as not to give a walk-over to the UPA and the JD(U) declaring its support to Mukherjee. Thus, the JD(U) became the Second NDA ally after Shiv Sena to break away from the BJP on the question of presidential nominee.

The Left parties split too with Communist Party of India (Marxist) and Forward Bloc deciding to support Pranab Babu while the CPI and Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) opting to abstain in the presidential poll. Banerjee’s decision is eagerly awaited.  The CPI (M) leader, Prakash Karat, said the Left needed to take into account wider implication of presidential election although the Bengal factor might have played a role in the party’s decision. Those in favour of supporting Mukherjee argued that election is an opportunity to widen Congress-TMC wedge and aligning with the UPA over a leader from Bengal would further this objective. A letter from former West Bengal chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, who did not attend the politbureau meeting, strongly backed Mukherjee, tilting the CPI(M) in favour of the finance minister. Karat observed that his party was supporting Mukherjee as 'in the present situation he is the candidate for the post of President with the widest possible acceptance.'

A vital question is being posed in political circles – with just parties and a shrinking base, how does the NDA think it can form a government at the centre? Modi and those striving hard to project him as prime ministerial candidate should think over this question.
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