Monday, August 15th, 2022 06:56:37

Nitish Vs Modi: Much Noise, Less Substance

Updated: April 13, 2013 10:29 am

Not a single day passes now when the leading television news channels and the mainstream English media, dominated by the so-called leftist and secular journalists, who will go to any extent of demonising and demoralising the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in general and Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi in particular, do not highlight the imminence of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar joining the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance. In fact, I have just come across a news-item in a leading national daily that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is supremely confident that his government will survive the full-term till 2014 even if Samajwadi Party of Mulayam Singh Yadav withdraws its outside support to his government, which, technically, became a minority government when its biggest constituent DMK left the coalition last fortnight over the issue of Sri Lankan Tamils. Because, so the report says, Nitish Kumar has assured the Congress leaders that they can always bank upon the support of his 20 MPs in Lok Sabha in any crisis.

In any case, if we go by the TV anchors and the English media, it is just a matter of time for Nitish and his Janata Dal (U) to leave the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and it is almost certain that during next year’s general elections, the Bihar Chief Minister will have the Congress as his new ally. Of course, this speculation has been there ever since Rahul Gandhi praised the Bihar Chief Minister some time in 2010, just on the eve of the elections to the Bihar assembly. The TV anchors and the English media went hyper after this and predicted that a “secular” Nitish would end the alliance with the “communal” BJP. But nothing of that sort happened. The JD (U) and BJP fought the elections together and reaped rich dividends.

However, the “secular” journalists were not deterred. Now they propounded the theory that Nitish would remain in the NDA, provided he was declared the Prime Ministerial candidate of the alliance. But Nitish, a realist that he is, did not fall into the secularists’ trap and clarified that a leader of a small party like JD (U) could not become the Prime Minister of the country. Since then, the so-called secularists have been highlighting two other inter-related theories, each aiming at Nitish breaking ties with the BJP and joining hands with the Congress. And in this endeavour, they have been supported by some party-colleagues of the Chief Minister, who, ironically, were, not long ago, in the Rashtriya Janata Dal of Lalu Prasad Yadav, Nitish’s bitterest political opponent in Bihar. Incidentally, all the quotes of the “secular” journalists on Nitish leaving the NDA are essentially based on the briefings of the erstwhile Lalu loyalists in the JD (U).

The first theory is that the Manmohan Singh government is all set to make Bihar a “backward state” by changing the criteria of backwardness, something that Nitish has been demanding for years. In his budget speech, Finance Minister P Chidambaram indicated this. Subsequently, Nitish organised a huge rally of his supporters in Delhi where he said that he would support those in power in Delhi who give Bihar special economic package. Later, he individually met the Prime Minister and Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission. Reportedly, Nitish came out “very happy” from these meetings last fortnight. And it so happened that immediately after these meetings, the government spokesmen told the “secular” journalists that the central government was ready with new criteria for “backwardness”.

I have put the word “backwardness” within quotes, because in their overenthusiasm for Nitish parting ways with the BJP, the “secular” media seems to have forgotten that Nitish has never demanded backward status for Bihar, based exclusively on socio-economic criteria. He has always talked of “special status”, a status that is not specific to Bihar and when decided will help other states such as Odisha and West Bengal. And here, in devising criteria for “special” status, a state’s vulnerability to natural disasters will also be taken into account. The idea is to distinguish the backwardness because of the faulty or inadequate governance from the poverty and lack of development due to the vagaries of nature, such as floods and cyclones. In fact, contrary to what our ‘secular” media says, the Congress has not yet been able to woo Nitish. On his return from New Delhi, the Bihar Chief Minister told a press conference at Patna that “no political motive should be derived from the UPA government’s gestures on the issue of special status to Bihar as the Congress-led government at the centre has no alternative other than conceding the state’s genuine demand”.

The second theory is equally dubious. Nitish, so it goes, is a “secular” leader and therefore cannot remain in the NDA, with Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi being increasingly projected as BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate. Of course, Nitish’s discomforts with Modi are not new, given the importance of the Muslim votes in Bihar. But then the fact remains that Nitish has been doing the business with the BJP for long and the BJP has not become “communal” all of a sudden because of Modi. In fact, Nitish was the railways minister when Gujarat riots took place in 2002. It is, perhaps, not well-known that Nitish has been one of the oldest allies of the BJP, and this alliance predates even the alliance between the BJP and Akali Dal. Nitish’s ties with the BJP date back to 1996 general elections when his erstwhile Samata Party [JD (U) came into existence in 2003], Shiv Sena and the Haryana Vikas Party of Om Prakash Chautala were the only allies of the BJP.

Given this background, will Nistish’s severing ties with the BJP on the ground of so-called secularism will look credible among the voters? No. Besides, let us see the ground realities in Bihar. In the 2010 Assembly elections, the JD (U)-BJP alliance polled about 39 per cent of the votes. Lalu’s RJD in alliance with Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP polled about 27 per cent of the votes. In terms of seats, the BJP-JD (U) alliance walked away with over 80 per cent. The Congress, which contested alone, managed about 8 per cent of the votes. Of course, even if the Congress had contested along with Lalu and Paswan, the “secular” alliance, with 35 per cent votes, would have still lost, though the fight would have been much closer.

Now, if Nitish leaves the BJP as per the advice of the “secular” media to ensure Narendra Modi’s defeat, what is he going to gain? Will Lalu, still formidable with more than 25 per cent votes, accept him as the leader of the “secular alliance”? No way. Suppose, Nitish only joins the Congress, a party seemingly associated with corruption, inflation and poor governance and perceived to be a sinking ship in the 2014 elections. It will then become a triangular election, involving Nitish, Lalu and Modi. Nitish will do badly unless Modi, or for that matter the BJP, in Bihar gets less than 10 per cent of votes. But that is not the case. The BJP, on its own, has a formidable presence in Bihar; the situation here is different from what it was in Odisha in 2009 when Naveen Patnaik deserted the BJP, which was in a very poor shape in the state.

As it is, under the present alliance between the BJP and JD (U) in Bihar, the BJP contests in 15 parliamentary seats, leaving the rest 25 to the JD (U). Suppose, as the Prime Ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi does emerge as a highly polarising figure. Then the BJP could easily take away 20 seats in Bihar where it has a strong base. In fact, BJP’s tally in Bihar could be more if the so-called secular votes get split between Lalu and Nitish. There is every possibility of Lalu doing much better than Nitish, given his consistent and principled opposition to the BJP. Viewed thus, I would argue that the wily Lalu should encourage the “secular” journalists to provoke Nitish to leave the BJP, because that is the best way for him to regain power in Bihar.

Whatever the Congress, or for that matter the “secular” media, may say, the fact remains that the BJP will not lose much in Bihar if Nitish abandons his long-standing ally. In fact, with Lalu drawing bigger and bigger crowds each passing day, it is Nitish who needs the BJP more, not the vice-versa. He should, therefore, sort out his differences with Modi and the best way to do this is preparing a fresh charter for governance for all the NDA partners, the charter that will be the only poll-agenda for Modi as the alliance’s Prime Ministerial candidate.

I do not think that Modi will have a problem with this; evident from the fact that he hardly talks of any issue other than governance and development of India. I do not remember a single incident over the last ten years when Modi has talked of “Hindutva”. He is talking of the country, not any community. Incidentally, Muslims in Gujarat are much better that their counterparts elsewhere in the country. Recently released government statistics say that Gujarat has more Muslims in its police force and has fewer Muslim undertrials than any other state, including Bihar.

It is time for Nitish to have a relook at Modi.

By Prakash Nanda

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