Group President, Group Managing Director & Editor In Chief: Dr.Shelly Ahmed

Thursday, April 18, 2013


The ugly spat between the two NDA allies over the PM issue has reached a breakpoint. The falling out could hurt both parties.

On 16 April, Bihar’s capital, Patna, witnessed an act of political grandstanding by the Janata Dal (United), which leads the state’s ruling coalition. Shivanand Tiwari, Rajya Sabha MP and party spokesperson, called a press conference to attack his party’s junior coalition partner, the BJP. “We haven’t forced the BJP to partner us and it is free to walk out,” Tiwari thundered. “The government will survive without it.”

Perhaps the BJP thought, he smirked, it was more important of the two because it ruled several states while the JD(U) ruled only Bihar. If the BJP quits, he said, “we will fight Bihar’s election by ourselves: all the 40 Lok Sabha seats and all the 243 Assembly seats.” Left unsaid was that minus the JD(U), the BJP cannot really hope to storm back to power in New Delhi at the head of a coalition following next year’s General Election.

The two parties have never bickered as much as now during their partnership of 17 years, through several prequels and splinters of the JD(U). Bihar Chief Minister and JD(U)’s de facto supremo, Nitish Kumar, threw the gauntlet by daring the BJP to name Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate and risk a break with the JD(U). Secularism, Kumar said, was non-negotiable, and then followed up by saying Modi should own up to the killing of some 2,000 Muslims in February-March 2002 by zealots linked with the RSS, the BJP’s ideological parent, which supplies the party most of its politicians, including Modi. The BJP shot back, telling Kumar to mind his business.

The verbal duel set the Ganges on fire, bringing juiciness back to Bihar’s politics, which has been rather staid since the coalition first won power in the 2005 Assembly election and retained it five years later. Among other rumours that flew hard and thick this week, one said Modi was considering contesting the 2014 parliamentary election from a seat in Patna and have the last laugh by winning it.

But is the sparring for real? At the end of his press conference, Tiwari admitted that any breakdown of the coalition would be “unfortunate”. Around the same time, Kumar and his Deputy Chief Minister, Sushil Modi of the BJP, were hanging out together at a function without a trace of bad blood. The BJP’s state president, Giriraj Singh, a Narendra Modi-supporter who held back no punches in attacking Kumar this week, too was in attendance.

The two parties have a history of bickering one day and shaking hands the next. They have been accused of barking without biting. But with temperatures as high as this week’s, the question uppermost in political minds is: which of the two would be the loser if the partnership is called off? Also, would Nitish Kumar succeed in exorcising the ghost of the BJP by ending the partnership now and convincing the state’s Muslims, who are over 16 percent of its eight crore people, to vote for the JD(U)?

Crunch some numbers to get a sense of what might lie ahead for the two parties. The vote share of the JD(U) stood at over 22.5 percent, the largest among all political parties in the fray, at the 2010 Assembly polls. This was an improvement of over 2 percent since 2005. On the other hand, the BJP polled considerably less, just shy of 16.5 percent, which was an increase of less than 1 percent over 2005.

But in terms of seats won as a percentage of those contested, the BJP trumped the JD(U). It won 91 of 102 seats it fought — a success rate of nearly 90 percent. The JD(U), on the other hand, won 115 seats out of the 143 it contested, a success rate of 80 percent. There is no doubt that both parties benefitted substantially by gaining each other’s voters.

“The BJP would emerge stronger if it leaves the alliance,” says Prem Kumar Mani, a former state legislator who was once a confidant of the chief minister. “It is a national party and, being in power in the state over the last seven years, it has expanded its base.”

His view that several JD(U) biggies would find it hard to win without the BJP as a partner finds an echo with some others too. “The BJP has a permanent organisation in Bihar unlike Nitish Kumar,” says Ram Bihari Singh, a former JD(U) leader who switched to the RJD of former chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav, Kumar’s rival. “Kumar has no permanent voter base to count on with confidence.” Moreover, there have been murmurs of dissent in the JD(U) from some party bigwigs once close to Kumar. They say the chief minister has become distant and has surrounded himself with “opportunists” who have switched over to him from Yadav.

But the BJP’s touted organisational base in Bihar hasn’t faced a battle standing alone. This puts it at a disadvantage, says Mahendra Suman, a political analyst. “Bihar elections are fought and won on the basis of a strong leadership and agenda,” he told INN in Patna. “The BJP has neither, while Nitish Kumar has won plaudits for his leadership.” His performance in his first term (2005-10), especially the reduction in crime rates on his watch, gave Kumar an image of a strong political leader, similar to the one that Yadav — who ruled Bihar unchallenged from 1990 until Kumar trounced him — once had.
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