Patna, June 16: The Ides of June have long haunted the JD(U)-BJP coalition in Bihar.
Three years ago, the partners came to the verge of parting mid-June when a Narendra Modi-inspired advertisement in Patna newspapers so enraged Nitish Kumar that he withdrew a dinner invitation to the gathered BJP brass and all but broke the deal.
Today, inspired by the shadow of a more insistent and unrelenting Narendra Modi, the Ides served to sunder.
The Bihar chief minister stoked the simmer with his Gujarat counterpart to a fast-tracked flashpoint, robbing the NDA of its biggest ally, dismissing all 11 BJP ministers in government and seeking a fresh trust vote on June 19.
In the bargain, he earned kudos from the UPA and a minority government that will need fresh cobbling of numbers to remain afloat.
But Nitish, composed and smiling, betrayed no hint he had erred in course or judgement. He presented the break as an inevitable and unavoidable consequence of the run of play in the BJP.
“A taaj-poshi (crowning) has happened in the BJP for everyone to see, and it is not acceptable to us,” Nitish announced upon a short meeting with governor D.Y. Patil this afternoon. “That crowning is a matter of political perception, not of technical nit-picking. It is not possible for me to avert my gaze from the writing on the wall any more, it is not possible to compromise on basic principles either. Therefore, we have decided to call this alliance off.”
The BJP was swift and seething to react. Sushil Modi, ousted deputy chief minister and long labelled a Nitish acolyte, cried betrayal and called this a “Black Day” for Bihar.
“This is treachery of the worst kind,” he said within minutes of Nitish pulling the plug. “I am certain the people of Bihar will teach him a lesson and avenge this insult to the mandate they had given us.”
Aware a bitter parting was imminent, BJP ministers had refused to attend a hurriedly called cabinet meeting this morning, calling the move “futile trickery”.
Nitish, on his part, blamed the BJP for creating an “untenable” constitutional situation. “I can understand ministers not working after they have resigned, but it is constitutional impropriety to refuse to do work or attend office without resigning. They were bent on paralysing the government, which is why I had to recommend their sacking.”
An acrimonious battle now stares Bihar in the face, with the BJP livid not merely with the manner of the break but also with the JD(U)’s renouncement of Narendra Modi.
“He is a leader we hold in the highest esteem,” said a top BJP functionary. “And the manner in which Nitish and his entire party have been insulting him is not acceptable, in fact it is reprehensible. The people of Bihar will give the final verdict on who they want; the battle has just begun.”
The first battle-front will in all likelihood be the June 18 “Bihar bandh” called by the BJP. But party ranks are promising the tussle will only intensify thereafter. “Let Narendra Modi set foot in Bihar and we shall see which way the drift is headed,” a newly dismissed minister challenged.
The JD(U) is mounting its own embattlements, some even suggesting that there may be a question on whether Narendra Modi will at all be allowed in the state. “We are committed to maintaining social harmony in Bihar and the politics and style of Narendra Modi is inimical to that. We shall have to take a considered call,” a senior JD(U) leader said. “We are prepared to meet the oncoming challenge.”
A statement released by the JD(U) said the party had been “dismayed and gravely disappointed” by the events of recent days in the BJP.
“There has been a rapid rise in the growing hegemonic control of a leadership that does not represent the characteristics which we had emphasised for the continuance of our alliance,” the statement said.
“The increased dominance of this leadership in the party with the intention of thrusting its decisions on alliance partners has become evident. There is growing intolerance towards any voice of dissent or moderation in the decision-making process…. The Goa announcement of the chairmanship of the electoral campaign committee of the BJP has filled all of us with deep apprehensions about the future. It has left not a shadow of doubt that this is a mere ceremonial prelude to his (Narendra Modi’s — name not taken) nomination as the prime ministerial candidate.”
Senior JD(U) parliamentarian N.K. Singh, who helped draft the divorce document, said that Modi’s anointment and subsequent march to the BJP’s centre stage had been “rather unabashed”.
But to his mind, that has made the challenge greater for the BJP. “The implications of this decision are going to ripple much beyond Bihar,” he told The Telegraph.
“After all, for the BJP it is not merely a matter now of retaining allies, their problem is going to be finding new allies. Many big parties and leaders were part of the NDA during Atalji’s and Advaniji’s time, where are they now? And how will the party attract them with Narendra Modi on top?”
Nitish himself pooh-poohed speculation of a “wave” around Narendra Modi. “A majority is required to form governments. Where are the numbers with the BJP? They are deluding themselves imagining waves and storms, they are welcome to delude themselves. I am not willing to be part of it.”
Although he never named Narendra Modi, Nitish was pointed in his references to the Gujarat chief minister and his part in the break-up. “We were running a smooth alliance; it is only when external interference started in the Bihar BJP and the running of the government that these problems began to arise and finally brought us to this pass. They are responsible for this break-up, not us.”
Or perhaps it was the Ides of June.