JD(U) – BJP Split – Advantage BJP?
Like so many things in India, the recent Jamata Dal (United) split from their allies in Bihar, the Bharatiya Janata Party was a reaction to media reports rather than any political exigency to part ways. The over-riding concern of the JD(U) was their refusal to give the Rashtriya Janata Dal of Lalu Yadav a safe passage to Muslim votes and the return of the MY (Muslim-Yadav) factor in Bihar politics. Nitish Kumar and Sharad Yadav understood the need to marginalize the RJD and keep Lalu Yadav , politically in check. The recent defeat in Maharajganj bye–elections could have been a factor that may have forced JD(U)’s hand. The one smiling at the political developments in Bihar must have been the Congress, because any set-back to the NDA helps Congress exponentially.
The politics in Bihar may have its moorings in the internal politics of the BJP. It could be that the close ties between Advani and Sharad Yadav may have lead to this extreme pressure to withdraw Narendra Modi as the Chairman of the Campaign Committee of the BJP. It could be that Advani may have withdrawn his resignation in the hopes that such extreme pressure from the JD(U) will ensure a rethink on Modi’s name as the Chairman of the Campaign Committee. The point blank refusal of the BJP to rethink on their decision came as a surprise to the JD(U). The extreme posturing by the JD(U) left them with no alternative but to announce the decision of a split with the BJP. Can the alliance be retrieved yet – it seems unlikely.
The pressure had been building on the JD(U). I must say the JD(U) made a hash of media management. Strong statements from their leaders like Devesh Thakur and others further pushed them into a corner. The JD(U) should have put a blanket ban on anyone from their party making any comments. What happened was to the contrary. That gave fuel to the fire. A 17 year old alliance came crumbling down. Did the media honchos open the bubbly, I do not know. What is clear is that an avoidable rift put a spanner in the NDA. A time-honored alliance between two parties that had respect and chemistry between their leaders said goodbye to each other in a rather acrimonious parting of ways. It was surprising to hear Nitish Kumar lament as to why the BJP ministers including the Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Modi refused to attend office. It was political propriety that BJP ministers stopped attending office once it was known that there was a chance of the alliance falling apart. It would have been unethical of them had they continued to attend office and perhaps distribute largesse to their faithful at the last minute before demitting office. I know for sure that some Congress ministers have done this but the people watch everything and it would have been against the grain of decency for the BJP ministers to continue till the last minute. The news reports that Nitish Kumar had sacked had little meaning as the BJP ministers had stopped working anyway.
The decision to part ways with the BJP has the Nitish Kumar stamp all along. Sharad Yadav was reluctant to call it quits. He reckoned that JD(U) and BJP alliance was unassailable in Bihar and that if they split both would suffer politically. Nitish Kumar on the other hand was very keen to prove his ‘secular’ credentials. He remarked at the press conference that he was ready to pay any price to uphold his party’s secular values. It is said that Sharad Yadav was unconvinced till the very end but Nitish’s insistence left him no choice but to go with the popular mood in the party.
The splitting of the JD(U) from the BJP in Bihar has been a definite set-back to the NDA. The other NDA partners like Shiromani Akali Dal and Shiv Sena voiced their disappointment at the developments in Bihar. A winning combination has been dismantled. This does not bode well for the NDA at least in the short run. But should the BJP be despondent? The popular mood in Bihar is that it was opportunistic of Nitish Kumar to break the alliance which had got the people’s mandate. The BJP has gone a step further and said that the JD(U) should go to the people and ask for a fresh mandate. They say it is unethical of the JD(U) to manage the 5 odd seats that they require to prove their majority. The Congress has 4 MLA’s but I would be surprised if the JD(U) would ask the Congress for support. Independents will do the job for them.
The question that begs to be answered is – how does the common voter in Bihar perceives the political situation. Nitish’s popularity has gone down. Even in the last elections it is the BJP that won more percentage of seats as compared to the JD(U) though the JD(U) won more seats in absolute terms because they had more candidates in the fray. Sushil Modi, of Bihar BJP has gained in popularity. People find him more responsive to their needs. Other BJP caste leaders like C.P. Thakur and Nandkishore Yadav have also much respect among the people. The BJP will now be the principle opposition party in the Bihar assembly with Sushil Modi as the Leader of the Opposition. He knows the bureaucracy and the Nitish style of functioning inside out. He can attack the government at every juncture, which I guess he will. Nitish may find his friend Sushil Modi a formidable foe.
The BJP may be down but not completely out. They have reason to cheer. The elections in Bihar are in two years time. The good news for the BJP is that all three major parties – the JD(U), the RJD and the Congress are vying for the same pie. All are looking at some caste backing along with the Muslim votes to get them back to power. Nitish is hoping for the Kurmi-Koeri votes plus the Muslims, while the RJD is looking at Yadav-Muslim combine. The Congress is banking on traditional forward caste votes and the Muslims to get to power. The common denominator is the Muslim votes. BJP has no such baggage to carry. Their following in Bihar is more broad based. The Muslim pie will be divided among all the three parties while the BJP has a vote bank intact with a mish-mash of forward castes and the backwards and even the Dalits voting for them. It helps in a way that their main leader – Mr. Sushil Modi does not necessarily belong to any caste – he is an outsider. It is the dogged pursuit to win the hearts of the people of Bihar and his work ethics that catches the imagination of the people. They will vote for the BJP because they believe that Sushil Modi can deliver. Lately, the people of Bihar have become disillusioned with the style of functioning of Ntitsh Kumar. The Maharajganj verdict was not a one-off aberration. It does mirror the sentiments of the people of Bihar. I will be surprised if the JD(U) could repeat its performance in 2015 when the elections are due.
But it will be the 2014 Lok Sabha elections that will be decisive in many ways. JD(U) will field its candidates as will other parties. The ‘secular’ parties will fight it out for the secular votes. I concede that the Muslim voters will vote with one aim in mind – to defeat the BJP. But I have a lurking feeling that the secular agenda is past its expiry date and now the discourse is ‘development’. In that the people of Bihar reckon that it is Sushil Modi, the other Modi, that can deliver. His credibility will help the BJP. In this JD(U)-BJP divorce, the Bihar politics has become a mish-mash of sorts. It is the people of Bihar that may surprise us all in 2014.
Update: Post JD(U) – BJP split Advani has issued a statement that it would be wrong strategy on BJP’s part to go to the polls under one individual’s leadership. Clearly, the JD(U) – BJP split is not an issue based move only, there was internal politics of the BJP that did play a role.
As for Bihar BJP the task at hand will be to win the confidence of the people and to create a niche for themselves. The message from the BJP to the people of Bihar should be that they will give a government that works and has development as its main agenda. BJP will need to work really hard to make the cut.
- JD(U) breaks its 17-year-old alliance with BJP (ibnlive.in.com)