Monday, 30th October 2017

E- paper

By BJP, for BJP, of BJP (Sorry, Nitish)

An unspoken, though strong, message has gone out to the BJP's allies from today's reshuffle of the Narendra Modi government: be content with what you have, at the moment there aren't even crumbs to spare for you. NDA constituents, including Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar's JDU, a high-value returnee to the fold, were given a cold go-by in the constitution of the Modi team.

By Sankarshan Thakur
  • Published 4.09.17
  •  
Nitish Kumar

New Delhi, Sept. 3: An unspoken, though strong, message has gone out to the BJP's allies from today's reshuffle of the Narendra Modi government: be content with what you have, at the moment there aren't even crumbs to spare for you. NDA constituents, including Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar's JDU, a high-value returnee to the fold, were given a cold go-by in the constitution of the Modi team.

This could mean two inter-linked things - Modi and BJP boss Amit Shah are pushing on with achieving saturation political imprint for the party and do not mind if that happens at the expense or annoyance of allies, old and new.

The Modi-Shah team redefined the NDA terms of exchange from the very start, forsaking the accommodative-consultative air of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee era to turn domineering big brothers. It has now built up a reputation for routinely snubbing ally concerns, even on occasion bullying them.

The Shiv Sena, a vintage, though see-saw, partner of the BJP was quick to carp. "This was not an NDA reshuffle, nor was the last one," said Sena leader Sanjay Raut, clearly displeased that his party had been accorded no notice. "This was entirely for the BJP."

But the one who felt the shove hard was Nitish, who has come to consider himself a trophy acquisition for the NDA with his stunning turncoat act in late July. Nitish kept a brave face on being summarily ignored, saying his party didn't expect any berths because there had been no discussions on the matter.

That may well be true, but it's equally true that Nitish had been expecting a call from New Delhi in the run-up to the reshuffle and was disappointed that none came. "There is disappointment, of course," said a senior JDU leader from Patna. "We were not taken by surprise this morning, what surprised us was that neither the Prime Minister nor the BJP president chose even to consult us on the reshuffle."

JDU circles have been excitedly abuzz these past weeks over regaining ministerial berths at the Centre. They were certain that one, if not two, JDU MPs would be picked for government. With Sharad Yadav in rebellion over Nitish's decision to sever ties with Lalu Prasad's RJD and return to the NDA, it was clear who the party was backing to enter the Modi government - close Nitish aide and newly appointed leader of the JDU in the Rajya Sabha, R.C.P. Singh.

When Nitish came to Delhi and formally joined the NDA after a meeting with Shah last month, most assumed the JDU would be taken into government to seal the arrangement. But as he awaited the call that never came, the Nitish camp was taken by a sinking feeling - could it be there was no reward for them in the Modi-Shah scheme? It has been known to Nitish a few days now that there clearly wasn't.

JDU circles are hopeful yet that representatives will be inducted "at another date soon", but the immediate perception damage has been done. Ignored in the reshuffle, Nitish has opened himself to taunts. It seemed to please RJD leader Lalu Prasad that Nitish had been overlooked for the Rashtrapati Bhavan ceremony. "He (Nitish) was not even given an invitation for the swearing-in," Lalu mocked, "One who betrays his own people will not be taken in by others."

A top Lalu Prasad aide told The Telegraph: "This also tells us that Nitish Kumar has no bargaining powers with Modi or Amit Shah, he has been shown his place, he has reduced himself, everybody can see that."

The snub to Nitish may have gone beyond just the denial of a place in the Modi government. The inclusion of Buxar BJP MP Ashwini Choubey and his Lok Sabha colleague from neighbouring Ara, R.K. Singh, could well be a sneer at him.

Singh is the one who, as IAS officer, arrested L.K. Advani and aborted the "Ram Rath Yatra" at Samastipur in 1990. Later, he steered close to Nitish and spearheaded the revival of road and bridge construction in Bihar post 2005.

Upon retirement, Singh briefly joined Nitish's office and was tipped to become Bihar's uber-bureaucrat. But he suddenly jumped ship and vanished from Nitish's office to pop up as the BJP candidate from Ara.

Chowbey, a minister in the Nitish government from 2005 to 2013, was, like Giriraj Singh, another Union minister from Bihar, a bitter critic of Nitish. It was well known that through the years during which Nitish remained outspokenly opposed to Modi, Chowbey was a Modi groupie. He is also a known factional opponent and baiter of party mate and former deputy chief minister Sushil Modi.

Nitish will be displeased the JDU has been bypassed; that Chowbey and Singh have been inducted from Bihar, instead, will rankle him.