Tantrums thrown by the Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar over advertisements in Patna dailies showing him and Narendra Modi holding hands and praising Gujarat Chief Minister for helping Kosi flood victims is a charade. His threat to take legal action against those who used his photo in the advertisements without his permission is ridiculous. Did the newspaper carry any fake photos that compromised him? The photos, that provoked Nitish now, are of NDA rally at Ludhiana during 2009 parliamentary elections that were widely carried by newspapers. Does anyone need his permission to re-print an old photo that was in public domain? Why has the Chief Minister gone ballistic on this flimsy issue? A plausible explanation is that he wanted to protect his “secular” image on the eve of the assembly elections to send across a strong message to Muslims.
Nitish watchers say the hype he created has something to do with his national ambitions. The Chief Minister seems to have convinced himself that the NDA would have no option but to project him as the prime ministerial candidate in the 2014 polls as he was the only “secular” face in the NDA with a mass following. No one can prevent him from day dreaming like Lalu Prasad Yadav who thinks he would be the PM sooner or later. A seasoned politician like Nitish Kumar shouldn’t even dream of becoming PM after offending the leading party in the alliance and large sections of Hindus by over-playing his hand.
Mainline media that is sympathetic to the Bihar Chief Minister has joined the political class in condemning him for returning Rs five crore to the Gujarat Government on the plea that the money sent by Modi Government had remained unspent. He is under attack for treating the relief fund as his personal loan and not a goodwill gesture from a friendly state. His confession that the money remained unspent for two long years run contrary to the perception that he is running an efficient administration. The people have a right to know why the relief fund was not spent even though flood victims continued to suffer. BJP Ministers in the coalition have strongly resented that they were not consulted before sending the money back to Gujarat. Nitish Kumar’s churlish action further strained the relations between the alliance partners.
BJP reacted with dignity and maturity. Contrary to reports in a section of the media that the Chief Minister had cancelled the dinner for members of the National Executive, it was the BJP that had conveyed to Nitish Kumar that they wouldn’t be able to find time to dine with him that evening. It was a polite way of snubbing an over-confident Chief Minister. The matter didn’t end there. As if to publicly demonstrate his party’s anguish, the Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Modi pulled out of a function held as part of the vishwas Yatra. This is significant, for Sushil Modi had rarely confronted the Chief Minister on any issue, including those that ran contrary to BJP’s beliefs and policies. BJP cadres in Bihar and outside are upset over the Bihar Government expediting the setting up of a Centre of the Aligarh Muslim University in the state. BJP is carrying on an agitation in Kerala against a similar move by the Kerala Government. The people of Bihar have a right to know if the BJP ministers resisted the move in the cabinet.
The mood in the huge BJP rally at Gandhi Maidan the next day was aggressive. Narendra Modi, who was the star speaker at the rally, enthused and energised the cadres by his powerful oratory. He didn’t mention the Chief Minister but praised the BJP ministers for their excellent work during the last four and a half years. However, it was left to L K Advani to apply the balm. The former Deputy Prime Minister observed that he would have appreciated if the CM addressed the rally. This underlined his perception that BJP and JD(U) need each other if the alliance is to return to power in Bihar and if the NDA is to do well at the national level. JD(U) president Sharad Yadav, who is also the convener of the NDA, while regretting the publication of the advertisements took the stand that the incidents of June 12 were unfortunate and need to be forgotten. His position is that his party is an ally of the BJP for long and that nothing should be done to weaken the NDA. Obviously upset over the statements issued by party leaders close to the Bihar Chief Minister, the party chief came out with a strong statement that alliances were decided by the party and not individuals making it clear that he was speaking on behalf of the party. Yadav categorically denied reports that JD (U) had asked the BJP not to field Narendra Modi during the campaign in the coming elections and stated that it was for the party concerned to choose its campaigners. Does that mean that the JD(U) is back on track? Or is the party divided on the crucial issue of alliance with the BJP?
JD(U) polled 20.46 per cent of the votes and won 81 seats in a House of 243 in the last assembly elections. Granting that good record of the State Government, JD(U) may garner more votes in the coming elections but it is inconceivable that it would win a majority on its own, much-touted surveys notwithstanding. The party will have to have some allies, if it wants to return to power. The Congress party has categorically stated that it would have nothing to do with Natish Kumar. The ruling party at the centre secured a paltry 6.09 per cent votes and 10 seats in the Assembly in 2005. It appears to have decided to go it alone in the hope that it would be able to do a UP in Bihar. Or may be the Congress would align with RJD and LJP that have a substantial presence in the state.
BJP is worried over developments in Bihar not only for the future of the alliance in the state but also for its likely repercussions at the national level. The party is acutely aware that it needs to have allies in the states where it is not in a position to win on its strength alone. However, it is under tremendous pressure from elements within the party not to sacrifice the interests of State units to appease the regional allies. Its experience in Punjab, where the party took a no-nonsense stand against the major partner in the coalition on several issues, is that standing by the state unit strengthened the alliance instead of hurting it. Maturity of the Punjab Chief Minister did play a significant part in the successful running of the Punjab coalition. The Chief Minister didn’t share the over-confidence of his son and other party leaders. Will it take a similar stand in Bihar? Only time will tell.