| Nitish Kumar and (right) Narendra Modi |
Patna, April 9: Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar’s annoyance with the BJP’s conscious and persistent efforts to woo the extremely backward caste (EBC) constituency is growing.
Carefully crafted and consolidated through positive discrimination initiatives over the years, the EBCs form the backbone of Nitish Kumar’s political base and he has taken a dim view of the BJP’s bid to make inroads. “Nitishji has personally nursed the EBCs and converted them into a formidable political force, what the BJP is doing clearly amounts to nibbling at his flanks,” sources close to the chief minister told The Telegraph, adding: “The CM has in fact conveyed his disapproval to his allies in no uncertain terms, but to little effect it seems. None of what the BJP is trying to do is amusing to us.”
Nitish expressed his pique at the BJP’s EBC tactics in cryptic but sharp tones this afternoon. “Political parties are independent to take their decisions. We have an alliance and a government running on a common minimum programme with the BJP. But what decisions individual parties take in the future depends on what happens in the future.”
He was answering questions on the BJP’s courtship of the EBC community.
Although this isn't a simmer likely to boil over any time soon, the Nitish camp is concerned the simmer is not being turned down by the BJP. The sense in Nitish’s circles, in fact, is that these are “deliberate provocations” aimed at expanding the political base of the BJP in Bihar at the expense of the JD(U).
Coupled with Nitish’s well-known aversion to Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, the emergence of this local-level irritant could well cast a discomfiting shadow on an alliance that ousted the once-invincible Lalu Prasad from power in 2005 and has since run remarkably smoothly.
Both deny national ambition, but behind the Nitish-Modi rivalry lies an unstated competition for a possible national prize post the 2014 general election. Modi is in preparatory grandstanding posture. The Bihar centenary rallies being organised by Nitish — the first was held in Delhi last month, the next is scheduled in Mumbai for April 15 — are being seen as his “stepping out”.
On the face of it, Nitish or his JD(U) can apply no objections to any political party seeking to extend its influence — constituency-building is an inalienable political right, which local BJP leaders have justifiably asserted to defend their activity. However, JD(U) leaders see in the BJP’s accelerated campaign a “violation” of an unspoken mutual non-aggression pact of sorts.
“It has been clear from the very inception of our alliance that we represent very different constituencies,” a top JD(U) leader said. “And the success of the alliance lies in marrying them together. The EBCs are the JD(U)’s domain and the BJP’s strategy to begin invading them is not acceptable, they are trying to pluck low fruit that has come from our work.”
He pointed out that the BJP’s EBC oriented outings are a phenomenon of recent origin and probably prodded by the ambition to close the electoral gap between themselves and the JD(U). In the 2010 Assembly polls, the BJP had a much better seat-to-seat strike rate than the JD(U) and the sense in some circles of the party, and significantly, the RSS, is that they should shore up greater advantage, if for nothing else, to acquire better bargaining power with Nitish.
Over the past few months, state BJP leaders have organised a series of events exclusively targeted at different EBC nomenclatures. The latest among them was staged on Saturday in Patna under the stewardship of deputy chief minister and BJP leader, Sushil Kumar Modi, where a series of concessions for weaver sub-castes were announced.
Although the gathering was held under the aegis of the All India Patwa-Tanti-Bunkar Mahasangh, the chief actors of the event were barely hidden: alongside Modi sat C.P. Thakur, Kailashpati Mishra, Janardan Sigriwal. It was an out and out BJP, rather than an NDA, affair. From the BJP’s point of view, such programmes are the natural domain of a political party, but seen from JD(U) eyes, this is an ally trying to break into what it considers its core political base.
As sources in Nitish’s immediate circle of advisers said: “If the BJP is trying to reward EBC groups from its own platform there can be little doubt it has its eyes on Nitish Kumar’s voter base and that cannot please the chief minister.”