From The Telegraph, 15 June 2013
Patna, June 14: Either the wind did it or some vandal. But intentional or unintended, man’s mischief or nature’s collateral, it’s a sight whose symbolism would grab even the blind. The first big Narendra Modi hoarding to be emblazoned at the BJP headquarters in Patna in the Nitish Kumar years stands ripped down the middle. The face that has brought a 17-year old alliance to the eve of bitter rupture occupies a beatific space on the half that remains intact: Narendra Modi’s. As if it couldn’t care the other half was gone, torn and sundered.
Tomorrow’s another day in politics, but on today’s evidence the JDU-BJP coalition looks every bit the image of that hoarding — split down the middle under the looming gaze of Modi.
Just when and how the last rites will be. consummated are probably only a matter of logistics and form. Tomorrow? The day after? In a week? Patna is a thick swirl of speculation, but the inevitability of the break is increasingly not part of any uncertainty. “Toot chuka,” a close aide of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar told The Telegraph this evening, “Kaise, kab yehi tay karna baaki hai. It’s gone (the alliance), all that is left is deciding when and how.”
Nitish himself was not flinching from acknowledgment of an endgame. Returning from wrapping up the last leg of his protracted Sewa Yatra outings this afternoon, he called the situation “grim” and requiring of deliberation. Only a fortnight back, in the aftermath of his Maharajgunj defeat, he had brushed off suggestions of trouble in the alliance and labelled it strong. Today, he was prepared to turn sardonic on appeals from top BJP leaders to keep the alliance alive in the name of respecting the mandate given to it. “Dua karte hain jaan ki, Dawa jaan lene ki dete hain,” he quipped acidly before departing the Patna airport for home. (They pray for my life, they offer me the potion of death.)
Nitish has been feverishly lobbied by the BJP top brass to hold his horses on the Modi issue, even been told privately that there is no certainty the Gujarat chief minister will become the party’s prime ministerial nominee. But he is unwilling any more to be cajoled or convinced on the issue. He is believed to have described some of those offering private assurances on behalf of the BJP as “khaali kartoos”, spent cartridges. To him the penny-drop moment was not so much Modi’s naming as campaign committee boss; it was BJP president Rajnath Singh announcing in Goa that the party wanted to see Modi as the “bhaavi neta”, future leader, of the country. “He has seen the writing on the wall, there will be no compromise on this,” a cabinet minister in Nitish’s inner circle said. He mentioned, rather pointedly, that neither Narendra Modi nor anybody close to him had made even the “slightest effort” to appeal to the Bihar chief minister, much less allay his apprehensions. “The Modi camp is unbothered about the survival of this alliance,” he said, “and those in the BJP that are making worried noises are either doing it for form or they do not matter at all.”
That is a sense echoed by sections of the BJP that want the alliance to somehow survive but have lost hope. “We cannot wish Narendra Modi away any longer and Nitish will not tolerate the mention of him,” a top BJP leader said this evening, almost wistful of tone, “We have no common ground left, it has all been claimed by Narendra Modi.”
What’s left, though, is for chief minister Nitish Kumar to make good his own high and unequivocally stated claim: that he will not countenance an arrangement by a man he deems communal and therefore unacceptable. Nitish has never publicly named Narendra Modi as fitting that description but that is political nicety whose veil has now worn thin. His zero-tolerance protocol on Modi is well catalogued. He has refused to let the Gujarat chief minister campaign in Bihar. He has shied away from sharing public space with him. In private conversations with BJP interlocutors here and in Delhi, he has never minced his words he will have nothing to do with Modi.
It will probably goad him to take his promised plunge that for all its fervent entreaties in the name of the alliance — leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj became the latest to make a save-our-soul and alliance call to Nitish today — the BJP has offered him no credible assurance Modi will not eventually be named candidate for Prime Minister. Their drift has been quite the opposite: on Modi there can’t be any compromise.
It will probably also goad him that pro-Modi sections in the Bihar BJP and his own cabinet have taken their gloves off and turned belligerent. Almost as if to taunt Nitish, his animal husbandry minister and Modi acolyte, Giriraj Singh, has decided to embark on an official trip to Gujarat, even though BJP ministers are currently on an undeclared pen-down.
And state party Chief Mangal Pandey has begun to accuse the JDU of trying to poach BJP MLAs, likening the Bihar allies to predator and prey. “Several of our legislators have been approached with enducements by JDU ministers,” Pandey ranted after a meeting of top BJP leaders at the residence of deputy chief minister Sushil Modi, “This is no way for an ally to behave, in fact we have been meeting only to keep our flock together, it is becoming a desperate situation.”
Nitish’s cry is not unlike: what the BJP has done by foregrounding Narendra Modi is no way for an ally to behave. Not after they knew his mind, not if they wished to keep this alliance alive. Perhaps he has come to a pass where he doesn’t care either how closely his rocked ship resembles that tattered hoarding with Narendra Modi looming down.