In Modi-Shah company, Nitish is becoming redundant

In Modi-Shah company, Nitish is becoming redundant

In March 2000, when Nitish Kumar became chief minister of Bihar for the first time, he could not muster the substantial support of the MLAs in the Assembly. Within a week, rather than seek a trust vote, he chose to resign. But such was his aura and stature during those NDA days that Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee re-inducted him into his cabinet a few months later, albeit as Union agriculture minister.

Seventeen years down the line, Nitish’s recent ‘ghar wapsi’ (home-coming) into the NDA fold has not been as ‘grand’ as many political scientists had anticipated. In fact, a critical analysis of some recent developments provides the clearest evidence that the BJP of Narendra Modi-Amit Shah has made the JD(U) strongman feel like an “unwanted guest”. This is in sharp contrast to the BJP of the Vajpayee-Advani era, which treated him with kid gloves.

The first sign of Nitish’s new, unenviable status was visible during the recent expansion of the Narendra Modi cabinet, ahead of which reams of newsprint had gone into highlighting how Nitish’s men would be given plum portfolios. Some JD(U) MPs apparently had even got new attires stitched, anticipating a call asking them to be present for the swearing-in. Though Nitish later clarified that there was never any such proposal or consultation for any JD(U) MP to be inducted into the Modi cabinet, the rebel JD(U) Rajya Sabha member Sharad Yadav called his bluff.

“When Nitish walked away from the ‘Grand Alliance’ severing ties with the RJD and the Congress, he offered me a position in the Modi cabinet and said I could get a portfolio of my choice. But I preferred to fight the BJP tooth and nail, as it is a matter of principle,” said Sharad recently. Incidentally, Sharad, now singing a different tune, was at one time the convener of the NDA.

Yet another embarrassing moment for Nitish was his failure to even get the position that Sharad had held as NDA convener. In fact, ever since the Bihar chief minister and JD(U) national president met BJP chief Amit Shah in New Delhi in August, speculation was rife in large sections of the media that Nitish may be appointed the NDA convener.

Traditionally, that post has been held by the JD(U). The then party chief George Fernandes held the post when Vajpayee was prime minister. When the NDA was out of power, Sharad, who succeeded Fernandes as JD(U) chief, continued as the coalition’s convener till June 2013, when Nitish severed ties with the BJP on the issue of opposition to Narendra Modi as prime ministerial candidate.

“This time, Nitish has erred in reading the BJP. He is now trapped in his own web. He is just trying to save his face when he says that there was no proposal of JD(U) members joining the Modi cabinet. The fact is, he was trying to extract his pound of flesh, without realising that the BJP of Modi-Shah is more astute, calculative and assertive than the BJP of Vajpayee and Advani, which gave undue weightage to Nitish,” said a ruling party source who was earlier a minister in Kumar’s cabinet in Bihar.

Settling scores

The saffron camp insists that Modi neither forgets nor forgives easily. “During his last Bihar visit for aerial survey of flood-affected areas, Modi doled out merely Rs 500 crore for the flood-ravaged people, while Manmohan Singh had granted more than Rs 1,000 crore for Kosi flood victims in 2008.

Besides, Modi cancelled the lunch scheduled at Nitish’s official residence in Patna. This was tit-for-tat for the humiliation Modi suffered in 2010 when Nitish cancelled a dinner for BJP leaders due to his animosity towards the then Gujarat chief minister,” said a senior BJP leader, who did not want to be identified.

Nitish had even returned a Rs 5 crore cheque to Modi in 2010, which the latter sent as Gujarat’s contribution to help the Kosi flood victims. “This year, the Gujarat government offered the same Rs 5 crore for Bihar flood victims. And Nitish had to accept it this time without a murmur,” said the ruling party leader.

Political observers feel this was yet another attempt by the BJP to show Nitish his place. The BJP has reportedly chalked out a strategy to make him redundant in the days to come. First, it has made it clear that it would contest on no less than 25 seats out of the 40 Lok Sabha constituencies in Bihar, thereby leaving 15 seats for its allies in the state. Of these 15 seats, sources say, the JD(U) will get nine, while the LJP and Upendra Kushwaha’s RLSP four and two seats respectively.

This proposal is unlikely to be acceptable to the man who has been ruling Bihar unchallenged for the last 12 years. And, therefore, Nitish has asked the JD(U) to gird up the organisation in all 40 LS constituencies. The BJP, too, is aware of the likely confrontation brewing. So, it has convened a Kurmi meet in Patna next month to prove that Nitish does not have a monopoly over the loyalty of that caste.

“The more the BJP tries to sink Nitish, the more it will be a gain for the RJD. Lalu, despite corruption allegations, will emerge triumphant. In fact, Lalu has weathered many such storms earlier. So, mark my words, this is Nitish’s last innings as chief minister. In his lust for power, he has shot himself in the foot. The next election will be a direct contest between the BJP and the RJD,” former JD(U) MP Shivanand Tiwary, who is now RJD vice-president, told Deccan Herald.

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