For Nitish, third front is a 'no-no'

It could be a sheer co-incidence that a day after NDA convenor Sharad Yadav shared the dais with mercurial Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee in New Delhi, the Bihar BJP president and former Union Minister C P Thakur stirred the hornet’s nest in Patna where he admitted that the saffron party was mulling over a proposal to contest all the 40 Lok Sabha seats in Bihar on its own.

Thakur’s statement came at a time when the BJP’s ties with one of its oldest ally – the JD (U) – had hit an all-time low. “These days politics is full of uncertainty. It’s not like a river which will originate at Gangotri and continue to flow till it ends up at Bay of Bengal. One never knows what will happen tomorrow. Under such circumstances, we are gearing up to find suitable candidates for all the 40 Lok Sabha seats,” said the Bihar BJP chief, who was Union Health Minister in Vajpayee’s Cabinet.

Thakur’s statement has not bemused its alliance partner - the JD (U), as the trust deficit between the two NDA allies has increased with each passing day. “Every party keeps its powder dry. If BJP wants to stay prepared for any eventuality, so is the right of the JD (U) too. We are also ready to contest all the 40 seats,” said JD (U) national spokesperson and Rajya Sabha member Shivanand Tiwary.

The constant flexing of muscles by the Janata Dal (United) has led to a joke within the saffron camp that “Nitish in NDA is Mamata of UPA” – creating perennial problem for the alliance (until Mamata walked out of the UPA).

Amid such ‘no-confidence’, no political pundit worth his salt is ready to bet which way Nitish would go post-2014 Lok Sabha elections. The JD (U) strongman himself added grist to the rumour mill when he, last month, averred that his party would back any government which would give Bihar “special status”. Sources close to him argue that he is keeping all options open, including backing the UPA. To buttress their point, they cite the example of presidential elections where Nitish backed Congress veteran Pranab Mukherjee instead of BJP-backed nominee PA Sangma.

Another case in point is Nitish’s refusal to gun for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s scalp in coalgate scam. While all Opposition parties were baying for PM’s blood, Nitish did not join the ‘oust-Manmohan’ campaign.

The Bihar Chief Minister does not want to antagonise Manmohan Singh in general and the Congress party in particular. After all, warming up to Congress has brought so much of goodies to Bihar. It got not one but two central universities – one in Bodh Gaya and the other in Motihari.

This came close on the heels of Manmohan Singh doling out one more largesse to Nitish in the form of coal linkage for Barauni Thermal Power Station (BTPS).

Last month, another bounty came in the form of Centre allocating Rs 2,385 crore for construction of 3,486 kilometres of rural roads and 96 bridges in Bihar.

Nitish is one politician who, if indebted, will go out of the way to help the person who has favoured him. And he knows very well that the next election will be contested in the name of vikas (development). All the talk of 2G scam and coal scam are beyond the comprehension of his rural voters, who still want BIPASA, (Bi- bijli, Sa- sadak and Pa-pani ). Convincing a voter in rural hinterland about a better road connectivity and power is easier than explaining 2G and coalgate scam.

No third front experiment

“We fetched rich political dividends in 2010 polls in the name of improved law and order. Next time, our focus will be on road network and power ,” said an aide to the Chief Minister.

Sources reiterated that Nitish was strictly not in favour of any third front-type experiment. In private, he was reported to have said that he does not want to be a Deve Gowda or Gujral, and outright rejected any such “meaningless and directionless third front offer”.

The moot point at this juncture, therefore, is whether he will dump BJP (and eventually the NDA) to join a Congress-led alliance?  Well, it’s too early to say now, but the result of Gujarat election will certainly set the stage for fresh political realignment, as Nitish’s antipathy for Narendra Modi is too well known. And everyone knows that Nitish’s writ runs in the party.

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