Patna, Feb. 3: Each passing remark of Narendra Modi supporters backing the “Hindutva icon” as the prime ministerial candidate of the NDA is virtually putting the JD(U)-BJP alliance, and to some extent chief minister Nitish Kumar, under strain.
Nitish today denied to have asked the BJP to decide on its prime ministerial candidate as reported by a vernacular daily, but the war of words between the JD(U) and the BJP is getting shriller by the day. The JD(U) spokesperson, Shivanand Tiwary described the campaign to project someone (read Modi) at the saints’ conclave at Kumbh mela as a mockery of democracy. BJP MP and former cricketer Kirti Azad was heard saying that Modi — the most popular leader — should be projected as the prime ministerial candidate irrespective of whether the Dal-BJP alliance remains intact or not. Former Vishwa Hindu Parishad chief Ashok Singhal also backed Modi for the top post.
The top layer of the NDA revealed that the nearly 17-year-old JD(U)-BJP alliance was on the edge not because of the sharp rhetoric flying thick and fast from the rank and file of the two partners. “It is on the edge because of the larger issue involving the Hindutva icon that Narendra Modi is. We will be left with no option other than walking away from the alliance if Modi is officially projected as the prime ministerial candidate,” a source close to Nitish said.
The source added: “Our stand is very clear and transparent. We want the BJP to project a secular and all-accommodative face as the prime ministerial nominee. It is our declared stand on which the JD(U) will not compromise.”
Another senior JD(U) strategist said: “The JD(U) and the BJP are two separate outfits having different ideologies. While the BJP has the Hindutva as its core philosophy, the JD(U) is a socialist outfit rooted to secularism and liberal values. Still, we are running the alliance for over 17 years on the basis of the common minimum programme. The JD(U) has steadfastly kept out of the militant Hindutva plank that generates fear among the minority community.”
The JD(U) strategists feel Modi is an “icon” of the Hindutva. Nitish abhors to be identified with it even remotely because he has painstakingly worked to rope in the Muslims who together with the Yadavs had held aloft the Lalu-Rabri regime for 15 years. The JD(U) think tanks perceive that the moment Nitish accepts Modi as the prime ministerial candidate, the Muslims who constitute nearly 16 per cent of the Bihar voters would once again turn to Lalu Prasad — still the hero of his 15 per cent Yadav caste men — reviving the M-Y (Muslim-Yadav) combination.
According to the JD(U)’s calculation, around 25 per cent Mulsims had voted for the NDA in the 2010 Assembly polls and successive by-elections. “If Nitish breaks away from the NDA on the Modi issue, he might emerge as a hero of the Muslims for opposing their ‘enemy number-1’, the way Lalu had emerged after arresting L.K. Advani in early 1990s,” a Dal leader said.
The gamble is not risk-free, though. It is still not clear that the Muslims would leave Lalu and Congress and support Nitish lock, stock and barrel in the event of the JD(U) breaking ranks with the BJP. Moreover, he runs the risk of losing the support of upper castes, constituting nearly seven to 10 per cent of the voters.
Yet, Nitish might prefer to take the risk if the BJP officially projects Modi as the prime ministerial candidate. Sources close to him said: “We will be compelled to take the risk if our partner is left with no way out other than projecting Modi as the prime ministerial candidate.” If the JD(U) snaps tie with the BJP, it might turn to the Extremely Backward Castes (EBCs) who constitute nearly 35 per cent of the state voters. Nitish created the “new constituency” by segregating it from the Mandal block. A sharp reader of the state’s social composition, the first thing he did after assuming power was to reserve 50 per cent seats for the EBCs, Mahadalits and women in the local bodies.
“Still, breaking out of the alliance would be risky. Lalu led RJD-LJP combination notched up over 29 per cent votes against the NDA’s 39 per cent in 2010. It means Lalu is still a powerful political force. The break up of the alliance might bring to the fore new social equations, creating a confusing scenario. The wily RJD boss might benefit once the equation that drove him out of the power goes awry,” said another Dal leader.