New Delhi, Sept. 10: The Janata Dal (United) today announced it would independently contest “at least 30 to 35” of the 182 Assembly seats in Gujarat, adding to the BJP’s discomfiture a day after Bal Thackeray pitched for Sushma Swaraj as the NDA’s Prime Minister candidate.
Ally Dal (U) said Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar — red rag to Gujarat counterpart Narendra Modi — would campaign in the western state.
Dal (U) sources spurned suggestions that the BJP had respected Nitish’s wish to keep Modi out of the Bihar polls, fearing his “divisive” image might consolidate Muslim votes behind Lalu Prasad, and he should, therefore, vacate the field for the BJP in Gujarat.
“We have an alliance in Bihar, we have a coalition government. There is no such thing in Gujarat,” emphasised Dal (U) chief Sharad Yadav.
Yadav recalled that since 2002, when his party was a member of the NDA government at the Centre, the Dal (U) had, on its own, contested all Assembly elections. He said the Dal (U) was ready to strike a pre-poll pact with the BJP in every state, except Gujarat.
“How can we have a pact with a BJP led by Modi? No, no, no,” stressed K.C. Tyagi, the general secretary.
BJP leader Arun Jaitley underplayed the import of the Dal (U)’s move, claiming this was a “completely normal feature of coalition politics”.
In a TV interview, he said: “Even if you look at UPA alliances, the NCP and Congress have contested separately as have Trinamul and the Congress.” He added that state-level divisions did not impact national coalitions.
Despite Jaitley’s apparent imperturbability, the BJP’s second and third-rung members and the Bihar contingent sounded furious.
“It almost amounts to a betrayal of coalition ethics,” a Bihar MP said. “Nitish is testing our patience repeatedly. What will his campaign be all about? About how great Modi is? He’s going to trash him.”
Sources said given that the Dal (U) had contested the past Gujarat elections solo, what gave a new angle to its decision this time was the recent Nitish-Modi history of acrimony.
“In all fairness, once Modi got the message that he was unwanted in Bihar, he didn’t step in,” a source said.
To rub in the degree of resentment they harboured towards the Dal (U), many from Bihar have gone to Gujarat to be part of a “rath yatra” Modi will begin tomorrow. The Shiv Sena has also decided to contest the Gujarat elections.