Politics 2020, Telegraph Calcutta

A ‘prayog’ against polarisation

Twice in successive Lok Sabha and Assembly rounds, Delhi has voted with instructive schizophrenia, endorsing Narendra Modi unreservedly at the Centre, effusively rejecting him in favour of Arvind Kejriwal for the state.

The number of those who vote bigamously depending on the election must remain astoundingly high.

Tuesday’s resounding verdict for the AAP suggests that while Modi remains unchallenged by party or person nationally, a credible regional dare to him can hold ground. And handsomely, as Kejriwal’s second sweep of Delhi demonstrates. Continue reading “A ‘prayog’ against polarisation”

Politics 2020, Telegraph Calcutta

Prashant Kishor and his improbable power map

Politics is the art of the possible”, said Otto von Bismarck. And then there are those who make it their business to attempt the art, or risk it.

What’s the bet Prashant Kishor will pop up in Bihar next, having posed his happy hug with Arvind Kejriwal and left the celebrations of Delhi? But whatever for? He’s just been rudely cut cold by Nitish Kumar. He doesn’t have a backroom in Patna. Nor a client. He doesn’t have a party in Patna. Nor a post. What might he be headed to Bihar for? Continue reading “Prashant Kishor and his improbable power map”

Elections2019

Bihar allies dwarfed & domineered by Modi

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A video clip snowballing all across may contain clues to political consequences in Bihar well beyond May 23.

It shows chief minister and JDU boss Nitish Kumar twisting uneasily in his chair as Prime Minister Narendra Modi holds hands with BJP colleagues on stage and takes the crowd through a shrill “Vande Mataram” drum-roll. Stuck on stage, Nitish doesn’t participate in the chant, but he seems not to know where to look.

The message has been conveyed close to his bone — the BJP wouldn’t flinch from playing a bully ally, and would turn more aggressively on the JDU and the LJP to toe the line. As the Modi shadow looms larger on Bihar, the BJP’s partners — the JDU and Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP — too are feeling dwarfed and domineered. Modi effect has scathed them too, and might rub them harder after May 23.

Nitish, for instance, has avoided putting out a manifesto this election because the BJP had drawn a few red lines for him: drop commitments to Article 370 and the Uniform Civil Code, and endorse construction of a Ram temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya. Not willing to comply, but not able to defy, Nitish shelved the manifesto altogether.

It’s clear from the tenor of the campaign that Modi is far and away the only leader in whose name NDA candidates are contesting; most often NDA contestants get no mention from the voter, it’s Modi they are endorsing and it is he who is making the difference between victory and defeat. The BJP will bring that factor to bear upon its Bihar allies.

Bihar goes to the polls next year and it may be a cause of some worry to the JDU and the LJP that Modi has come to be established as the overarching electoral factor.

The BJP may, in fact, drastically review ceding exaggerated space to allies — Nitish’s JDU and Paswan’s LJP — and contesting only 17 of Bihar’s 40 Lok Sabha seats.

Privately, senior BJP leaders are already beginning to admit the allies may be a drag on the NDA’s strike rate. In particular the JDU, which was given 17 seats to contest when it had only two sitting MPs.

In effect, the BJP lost five seats even before the polls began because it had 22 MPs in the last Lok Sabha. “Having allies and building a broader social coalition is essential but the distribution of seats was loaded disproportionately against us,” a senior BJP leader here admitted, adding, “It is clear we are much stronger on the ground in Bihar than our seat share suggests.”

The future of the alliance in Bihar — and how seats get shared in the 2020 Assembly polls — would also depend on who secures how many seats in the Lok Sabha polls. The JDU and the LJP are, therefore, keen on their “strike rate” being good. And both are worried about losing out.

The Paswans of the LJP have more to worry, the campaign suggests. The NDA backroom is not convinced Chirag Paswan has won in Jamui, their hope is he may scrape through.

In Samastipur and Hajipur, both reserved seats, the Paswan brothers Ram Chandra and Pashupati Paras, respectively, are fighting against widespread resentment; voices off the trail suggest that in both constituencies people are angry for having been taken for granted by the Paswan clan.

“We are not here to serve the interests of the Paswans who seem to think they are our only choice, they can’t take us for granted,” a Paswan votary at Sarai Ranjan in Samastipur said. In Hajipur too, part of the campaign has taken the shape of a “Pashupati bhagao” tableau. The Paswans are resourceful, and they are backed by the Modi cry, but they have good reason to be concerned.

The slightest dip, and the BJP could begin pushing them to the side. Some have even begun to suggest that if the BJP does better than its partners, it will ride roughshod even at the expense of breaking the alliance and proceeding alone, or with a reworked alliance whose engine is the BJP rather than the JDU.

The prospect that the current arrangement may not work in 2020 is the chief reason Nitish is conveying visible signals of discomfort with the BJP, as he did from the Modi stage in Darbhanga.

Telegraph Calcutta

BJP pressure stalls Nitish manifesto

Bihar chief minister and JDU boss Nitish Kumar is under insistent pressure from his domineering ally, the BJP, to drop key commitments from his manifesto and align it closer to the Sangh parivar worldview.

The three issues the BJP wants him to drop relate to Article 370, the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) and the construction of a Ram mandir in Ayodhya.

Nitish and the JDU have hitherto held a different position from the BJP on all three — they have vowed to protect Article 370, which guarantees special status to Jammu and Kashmir, and the UCC, which is an article of faith for the Muslim minority; they have also never toed the BJP line on endorsing the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya.

But hectored by the BJP to go silent on all the three issues, the JDU leadership has been thrown in a quandary: does it submit to the demands of the BJP, or risk their ire in the middle of a critical election?

The JDU manifesto has been drafted by a team comprising party general secretary K.C. Tyagi and national spokesperson Pavan Varma, and makes a mention of all the three issues “in keeping with our traditional secular line of inclusive growth”.

The manifesto was to have been released on April 14, but its unveiling has remained inexplicably withheld. Reliable JDU sources have told The Telegraph that it is the BJP’s last-minute demand on key and critical changes that has kept the release in abeyance.

One of the authors of the stalled manifesto, Tyagi, has in fact been summoned to Patna from Delhi by Nitish on how to deal with the BJP diktat.

The chief minister, the sources indicated, was “not averse” to “going silent” on the three issues but others, including Tyagi, were reluctant to play ball, arguing that it would mean “complete ideological subjugation” to the BJP and the Sangh.

Nitish, and his senior colleagues, have maintained thus far that the JDU has its own ideology, distinct from the BJP’s, and would stick to its “core commitments to secular principles and politics” despite being in alliance with the BJP.

On paper, the JDU avers that any dilution of Article 370 and the UCC, or any commitment to building a Ram temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya is violative of “secular principles”.

But now, Nitish suddenly appears a little shaken on those commitments. Mid-campaign, Nitish isn’t quite sure how defying the BJP will impact the future of JDU candidates in the fray. There is, of course, an unspoken dare beneath the demand the BJP is pushing — comply, or else…

Nitish’s allies have already littered the campaign with palpably divisive and anti-minority rants. The BJP’s Begusarai candidate, Giriraj Singh, declared on Wednesday that if Muslims wanted their three yards of burial space, they shall have to say Vande Mataram.

At a rally in Darbhanga on Thursday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi exhorted, in Nitish’s presence, that those who had a problem saying Vande Mataram deserve to lose their deposits.

Nitish, clearly, is having to quietly and helplessly sit out a campaign by his allies that runs contrary to his “avowed commitment” to secular politics.

The JDU is contesting 17 of Bihar’s 40 Lok Sabha seats — the same number as the BJP — but it is well aware that the support of the BJP is critical to its success in most, if not all, of those seats.

So here’s Nitish’s dilemma, being played out in the strategy rooms of the Bihar chief minister as this report is written: Should Nitish not agree to comply with the BJP’s demand, his ally will turn cool and the strike rate of JDU victories will suffer. Should he give in, and drop those critical commitments against the wishes of key authors of the manifesto, Nitish will lose even the fig leaf of being “committed to secular politics and minority rights”.

Nitish has made many convenient and contrary choices to suit his political survival and ends in the past. The unveiling of the JDU manifesto, when it does happen, will provide clues to which way he chose to go this time — the way of “conviction” or the way of convenience.

Telegraph Calcutta

Kishor and the kinship of cartwheels

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New Delhi: The art of the political cartwheel has made Patna its stage again. Strategist Prashant Kishor, who joined the Janata Dal United on Sunday and announced his “new journey from Bihar”, is as adept and frequent a fence-hopper as his boss and Bihar chief minister, Nitish Kumar. Continue reading “Kishor and the kinship of cartwheels”