There can be nothing but a sense of foreboding in the way politics is unfolding in northern and eastern India. The person of contention meanwhile is ensconced in western India. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is gasping for breath as one of its main constituents the JD(U) has walked away. The JD(U) broke its 17 year old alliance with the BJP because Narendra Modi was appointed as the campaign chief for the 2014 general election. Modi has not yet been named as the PM candidate nor has he been chosen as campaign manager for the NDA, yet Nitish Kumar would not go along with the Hindutva agenda of a BJP under Modi.
The 13-party centre right coalition has only given India one government so far. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee held together the NDA constituents with the able support of Samata Party chief George Fernandes. But with Vajpayee ailing and out of active politics now for almost a decade, the coalition has held together merely because none of its constituents, barring Mamata (TMC) and Naveen Patnaik (BJD) had anywhere to go. These two, are now in talks to with Nitish Kumar to form some sort of a loose Eastern Front. Yet another odd grouping arising out of a complete mess because of Modi’s nomination and Nitish’s intolerance.
Shahnawaz Hussein of BJP put it quite succinctly when he said “2002 mey Gujarat mey jab tanav tha toh aap hamare saath thay, ab vahan shanti hai toh aap saath chodna chahtey hain? Aap yeh jaan lein Pradhan Mantri pad hum baanteingay nahi, yeh toh BJP ka hii banega.” Mukhtar Naqvi said, “There will be no compromise on Narendra Modi even if the alliance has to be broken once or 10 times.” Nitish Kumar snapped and walked out. “Talluk bojh ban jaye toh usko todna achchha, Voh afsana jisey anjam tak lana naa ho mumkin, usey ek khoobsurat mod dekar chhorna achchaa”. (Sahir Ludhianvi)
Meanwhile many NDA constituents like the Shiv Sena and Akali Dal are hoping that this is just a pre-general election posturing by JD(U). They think that Nitish wants to keep his Muslim vote bank Modi-free and in desperation, he has severed all links with the BJP. Naresh Gujral of Shiromani Akali Dal thinks it is a miscalculation on Nitish’s part: “This is a temporary setback to the NDA, the JD(U) and some other parties might leave the fold but they will come back. It is a separation, not a divorce. Nitish should understand that 60-65 per cent of the Muslim voters are young Indians who are not prepared to buy the politics of fear… they want politics of development. They will not be taken in by this so-called secular move.”
Nitish wants to hedge too many bets. He has assembly elections looming ahead of him and a strong anti-establishment wave being fuelled by his old bete-noire Lalu Yadav. The wily Lalu campaigned ferociously and successfully in the recent bypoll with a one point strategy, telling his voters: if you vote for Nitish, you are actually voting for Narendra Modi. His party probably didn’t win in Maharajganj because of that slogan but it sent jitters all the way to Patna and in two weeks we have a split. Nitish said, “We have decided not to compromise on ideology, whatever the consequence of this decision.”
Nitish, Mamata and Naveen Patnaik are testing waters to see if a Third Front is possible. Arun Jaitley, mighty confident of the sturdiness of the BJP, with or without the NDA, taunted, “The Third Front is a failed idea. It has been experimented at least three or four times in India and hasn’t lasted beyond a few months. India can hardly afford instability of that kind.” At this stage, however, it seems like NDA is a failing idea with no leader willing to build consensus and placate nervous allies. And that is not necessarily a good thing for a divided house that is the BJP today.
Meanwhile the Perpetual-PM-in-waiting is having his I-told-you-so-moment, not realising that if Modi is unacceptable to the NDA, he himself was rejected by the country. As Gulzar said “Waqt ki shaakh todne walon, tooti shaakhon par phal nahi aatey.” LK Advani, as NDA chairman, could have held the flock together. But the overriding ambition of BJP leaders has fragmented the NDA into an unviable entity. If the Congress capitalises on this disarray and calls for snap polls now neither the BJP nor the NDA seem ready for it.
Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on Twitter @smitaprakash