The drama between Nitish Kumar and Narendra Modi – delayed till the end of the year

For some time now, there has been an ongoing high-pitched drama going on between 2 leaders – the Bihar Chief Minister, Nitish Kumar and the Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi. For the past couple of years, there has been a growing campaign to have a leader who could revitalize the BJP and make it a party that appeals to people again. The corruption in Karnataka has ripped the development and integrity sheen off the BJP and even though the former chief minister is now out of the party, the corruption is something to remember. The southern state was supposed to be the gateway to the other states in the south, but as of now, most experts do not give the party any chance of coming back to victory in the elections that are going to be held next month (in fact, the municipal elections show that the BJP came third, way behind the Congress tally). With this, the party is again restricted to the states in the north and middle of the country, and that means a number of potential seats are no-go areas for the party, and it needs allies. However, allies will not come until there is seen to be a chance that the BJP is way ahead of the Congress, or there is a clear wave in its favor. Even otherwise, given the corruption and paralysis that is happening to the Congress led UPA Government, the BJP was in an ideal position to drive a wave in its favor, but that has not happened. Others in civil society such as Kejriwal have tried to take on this mantle, and may or may not succeed, but this was something that the BJP was expected to drive.
Now, what the BJP is looking for is a leader that is supposed to accomplish 2 things – he should be somebody whom the middle class can see as somebody driving growth, who can bring about development, and the BJP also needs somebody who can undercut the natural advantages that many of the regional players will have. It is a natural advantage that the non-BJP parties have, the playing into the ground of secularism and seeking to get votes from the minority community (primarily the Muslim community). It is an accepted fact that there would be very few members of the Muslim community who would vote for the BJP (although Modi seems to be challenging the fact by trying to push for development on a non-discriminatory basis – and there are a number of articles and news that is trying to push back by showing non-development of Muslims as opposed to others in Gujarat).
What makes it complicated for the BJP is that they need a person who has a public Hindutva focus so that there is an excitement among the cadres, and yet is not seen as too hard which would push away many among the middle class who are uncomfortable with this push (and which is why any speeches by people such as Dr. Togadia is very discomforting for the BJP). Now, there is no doubt that Narendra Modi fits in with the Hindutva focus (because of having been chief minister of a state where a sort of ‘teaching of lesson to the Muslims’ happened – but in reality which was a blot on India). So, for the past few years, the Gujarat chief minister has been on a development focus, ensuring that there is some development happening in the state with a great reputation for being focused on improving all round development as well as having a focus on industry. This reputation, along with the total denial of any interviews or any comments on the Gujarat riots and a focus on development, and of course with the fact that the Gujarat riots happened more than 10 years back, ensures that a large section of the younger section of voters do not have any memory of the riots, and instead, disillusioned with the Congress, look to Modi as somebody who could do good for the country.
However, Nitish Kumar is stuck. He depends on a consolidation of voters across different castes and communities, with the Muslim community playing a large part of this section. There are essentially 4 sections of voters in his state – the scheduled castes, the most backward communities, the Muslims, and the forward castes. Nitish Kumar has struck a chord with many of these, although the votes of the Muslim community can be fickle (with the Congress and the RJD fighting tooth and nail to ensure that they get most of the votes from here), and the votes of the forward community depend to some extent upon his alliance with the BJP. He cannot afford to be seen as getting too close to the more Hindutva focused sections of the BJP, and the sheer problems of Bihar and the time it takes to bring about development in the state is starting to disillusion voters (with every mistake being pounced upon by Laloo Prasad Yadav who has been drawing more supporters to his rallies). So Nitish has to keep a distance from Modi, and given that Modi is likely to become the undisputed leader of the BJP, he has to express more criticism.
About those fears of Nitish aligning with the Congress, he cannot afford to be tainted with any sort of association with the Congress. He has seen the rout of the Congress in recent elections (with a few victories in between in smaller states), and would certainly not want to associate with a party that sees itself as being much above alliances (the Congress does not really see itself as being an equal and has been known to launch the CBI against allies as well). So, how does he reconcile these approaches ? He calls for a re-consideration of the alliance with the BJP if Modi is the leader, implicitly ensuring that the BJP itself is seen as now seen as a natural ally without any taint. And by extending the time to the end of the year for the BJP to decide on its leader, he has given everybody a lot more time to see where things lie. If the Congress gets hit with another scam or if it is unable to pull off a win in Karnataka, he will do more balancing and remain with the BJP. Else, well, politics is the art of the possible.

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