Sunday, March 17, 2013

Nitish rattles BJP….makes the Congress drool

Everyone comes to Delhi for their rallies. Whether it is Narendra Modi, or Nitish Kumar, or the farmers protesting against the land bill, all of them come to Delhi. All major national political parties of course hold their rallies in Delhi. The activists also hold their rallies in Delhi (but for them, its because of the force multiplier – the TV cameras that are on the ready!). Delhi rewards everyone will huge numbers. It’s a politically active city. Nitish apparently got 50,000+ supporters at his rally yesterday. But large numbers is not something that Nitish Kumar should feel smug about. What he may however rightfully feel smug about is his unique position in Indian politics.

The BJP surely realizes that there cannot even be a beginning for its 2014 campaign without Nitish. The party is largely absent from the six biggest seat contributors – UP, Maharashtra, Bihar, WB, TN and AP – having merely 32 MPs from these states, which together account for 289 seats between them. And of these, as many as 12 are from Bihar, courtesy Nitish. If Nitish gives a kick to the BJP, the party will be reduced to a regional party, with presence largely in Gujarat, MP, Chhatisgarh and (maybe) Rajasthan. Add to this, the losses in Karnataka and the picture for the BJP is grim indeed.

What makes it truly difficult for the BJP of course is that no party wants to align with it – at least at the pre-poll stage. Bihar was the best hope the BJP had. If even Nitish walks away, the party will stand isolated (remember Jaitley’s “splendid isolation” in a different context??!!). The BJP is a spent force in UP and it is not even present in WB, TN and AP. Its sole hope is Maharashtra, but even here its record has been checkered at best. So Nitish’s importance in the NDA constellation cannot be overstated. He knows it and he is not going to keep quiet about it. The BJP knows it too, but the various factions in the BJP make it impossible for it to acknowledge this openly. For the section that croons for Modi, Modi’s charisma will be enough to win the party enough seats in Bihar even without Nitish. For those who know the ground reality, it will be suicidal to let Kumar go.

Another worrying fact for the BJP is that even in states where the Congress is in trouble, it doesn’t benefit much. But in states where it is in trouble, the Congress benefits directly. Take Andhra. The Congress is in trouble. But the beneficiary would be the Jagan Congress or the TRS, both of whom consider the BJP to be a pariah. Take Kerala. If the Congress loses, it would be the Left that would win, not the BJP. Ditto Assam and the entire North East where non-BJP parties occupy the opposition space. Now add Maharashtra to this list. Given the slump in the Shiv Sena after Sr Thackeray’s demise, it is more than likely the MNS will benefit if the Cong-NCP suffers a setback. And the MNS doesn’t want to join the BJP bandwagon. Now take Karnataka. If the BJP loses, as it did recently in the local elections, the Congress will gain. Take the other core BJP states named earlier – Gujarat, Rajasthan, MP, Chhatisgarh – wherever the BJP loses, the Congress gains directly. It is because of this that Advani stated recently that though the people are disillusioned with the Congress, the BJP isn’t gaining.

So one thing is clear. The BJP is not even a serious contender for power if Nitish parts company. Its own seats position can hardly improve beyond where it is right now. Its only hope at striking power is via its allies and JD(U)’s prime place should be clear to everyone in the party. Even to Modi.

But its not as if only the BJP is dependent on Nitish. The Congress is too. If it has to cover up for losses in AP, Rajasthan and in general, all over the country, it will need new allies. Who better than Nitish, who in spite of everything, is likely to rule Bihar for another few years. Nitish can make a UPA-3 possible and he knows it. That’s why the Congress has been making overtures to him. That’s why the Congress is seriously considering giving the state the “special status” tag.

Even ideologically, the JD(U) is better aligned with the Congress than the BJP. Bihar has 16.5% Muslims, and nowhere in the country, where the share of Muslims is more than the national average of 13% has the BJP done well; that is why it is the BJP that is dependent on Nitish and not the other way around. Nitish also believes in secularism, and for whatever it is worth, so does the Congress. Both Nitish and the Congress talk of “inclusive” growth. There is commonality of purpose here. However, the alliance is easier said than done.

For the Congress still nurtures hopes of its own revival in the state. Besides, its long term partner, the RJD, has been drawing big crowds in the state, indicating some degree of frustration with Nitish. My own visit to the state a few months back had indicated that Nitish’s best is over. People appreciated him in his first spell because he improved the law and order situation, but now as they demand jobs and power and economic development and lower corruption, he is starting to flounder. When people get frustrated, they go for a change. Who else will they vote for but the Cong-RJD alliance?

So when it comes to the Congress, the wooing is bound to be both ways. The Congress will keep its options open – partly to keep Laloo in check. But Nitish will woo the Congress as well, just in case BJP persists with Modi. Surely Nitish knows his popularity is on the wane. If that is true, he will need the Muslim vote. And who better (in Bihar) to ally with than the Congress. Bihar is indeed interestingly poised!

The real truth is that Nitish has rattled the BJP with his rally. He has reminded the BJP just how important he is for them. How they should not ignore his views on Modi. And Nitish has made his views clear – he doesn’t like Modi; the real Vikash purush is he, not Modi; Modi will take away Muslim voters; and Modi is a loud mouth and a bully – now it is for the BJP to decide. In the meanwhile, the Congress is eyeing the juicy possibility of a third term in power….

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