The Telegraph
Thursday , January 31 , 2013
Since 1st March, 1999
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Nitish gears for BJP split

New Delhi, Jan. 30: BJP ally Janata Dal (United) today appeared reconciled to an eventual split with its partner, sources close to the party leadership said, voicing fears that Narendra Modi’s projection as the mascot for 2014 looked “increasingly” real.

Sources close to Nitish Kumar said the Bihar chief minister was working on a plan to “go alone”, given the way things were shaping up and the perils of continuing with the alliance even if the Gujarat leader was not projected as the NDA’s candidate for Prime Minister.

“We are increasingly getting the idea about Modi being projected as the BJP’s prime ministerial face sooner or later. We have started to prepare for the eventuality of walking out of the NDA and going alone,” said a Dal (U) leader close to Nitish.

The hint of a possible divorce came days after BJP leader Yashwant Sinha said Modi should be named the party’s “PM candidate” for the 2014 elections.

“If the Dal (United) willingly leaves the NDA, it will not be stopped. The BJP will look for other options,” the former Union minister had told a television channel earlier.

Dal (U) sources said Nitish would find it difficult to continue the alliance even if the BJP tried to pitch Modi indirectly by elevating him as chairman or convener of the party’s election campaign committee, as widely speculated. They said the Gujarat chief minister would then travel across the country, leading his party’s campaign.

“If Modi leads the campaign, it is likely that he would also travel to Bihar. Such a situation would be untenable for us since our leader Nitish Kumar had not allowed Modi to canvass in earlier elections,” the Dal (U) leader said.

The sources said Nitish’s calculation was Lalu Prasad would bounce back in Bihar if the Dal (U) remained a BJP ally after Modi’s direct or indirect projection. Party managers said the possibility of Muslim, Yadav and Paswan voters — who account for about 30 per cent of Bihar’s electorate — consolidating behind the RJD leader could increase in such a scenario.

The sources said Nitish had won the confidence of the state’s 14 per cent Muslim population through sustained efforts by his government and didn’t want to throw it all away with one wrong move.

Going alone is also fraught with risks as upper-caste voters might desert the Dal (U). There are also reports of an erosion in Nitish’s support base. But the Dal (U) leadership believes the overall impact would be far less than what it could be if the party remained with a Modi-led BJP.

“We don’t believe the upper castes in their entirety would desert us. They don’t want a return of Lalu Prasad in Bihar and, having tasted good governance, we are sure they will back us in good numbers,” a Dal (U) leader said.

Dal (U) leaders also believe that barring the Yadavs, all other backward castes would choose Nitish over Lalu Prasad.