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Politics: Is the BJP now ready to drop Nitish-led JD(U) from NDA?

Virendra Pandit 

New Delhi: The latest gambit the BJP has adopted in Bihar is a pointer to what may happen next month.

Refusing to play second fiddle to senior NDA partners in their states, the BJP heaved a sigh of relief when, one by one, the Shiv Sena, and Akali Dal chose their own way out of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) since May 2019 to find comfort in the company of whatever remains of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA).

So far, the Nitish Kumar-led Janata Dal (United) was playing hide-and-seek in the NDA. It is still part of the NDA but did not join its government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi who did not budge to its outsized demands for representation in the Union Cabinet last year.

A year later, the BJP may be paying Nitish in his own coin.

With Chirag Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) staying in the NDA but against Nitish Kumar in Bihar during the upcoming Vidhan Sabha elections, the BJP has kept a sword hanging on the Bihar Chief Minister’s head.

Moreover, with Asaduddin Owasi’s efforts, some of the Muslim votes is expected to split and shift from the RJD-led UPA to the Hyderabad-based leader’s new alliance. This may give the BJP an edge over the JD(U)—in which case the Modi-led party could emerge stronger and stake claim for Chief Ministership, forcing Kumar to support it.

Nitish Kumar is known to switch sides at the last moment. If the JD(U) can, he could repeat his 2015 game in 2020 as well when he had joined hands with the Lalu Prasad-led RJD to stay in power in Patna.

That is why the BJP may have been wary of him. It felt that Nitish was using the BJP more than the latter could use the JD(U) chief.

In any case, the BJP could not enlarge its footprint in a state like Maharashtra, Punjab or Bihar where its larger and demanding NDA partner had so far been calling the shots. It, therefore, allowed the Shiv Sena and the Akali Dal to break away from NDA in the last one year.

The same may now be repeated in Bihar as well.

Although the BJP has, so far, continued to repose faith in Nitish Kumar as the NDA’s Chief Ministerial candidate this time as well, some new developments point to a possible change in strategy as the campaign for the first phase of Assembly elections closed on Monday evening (October 26).

Two days ahead of this vote, the BJP put up life-size posters across the state with only Modi’s image, indicating that the party may have decided to drop Nitish and seek vote only in its own name. Similar, full-page advertisements appeared in daily newspapers of Bihar.

Interestingly, this happened when Modi is scheduled to address six more rallies on November 1 and 3 in Bihar.

So far, he held three rallies at Sasaram, Gaya, and Bhagalpur, along with Nitish Kumar. Now, dropping the Bihar CM’s photo altogether in posters—keeping only the symbols of NDA partners in Bihar—indicated the shape of things to come.

Belatedly, the BJP may have realized that its NDA partners had become more of a liability than assets. In the same breath, they wanted the BJP’s support at the Centre but opposed it in their respective states. This double-game had continued for decades. The BJP decided to call their bluff and shed this baggage.

The BJP’s only NDA partner left in the Union Cabinet is the Republican Party of India (RPI) whose chief Ramdas Athawale is a minister.

Postscript: Once upon a time, there was a Grand Old Party (GOP), officially known as the Indian National Congress (INC). It is a junior party now in the RJD-led UPA in Bihar. Its 50-year-old young leader, Rahul Gandhi, has been depicted as Lord Ram in the “secular” party’s posters; in neighboring Uttar Pradesh, however, the Congress had been opposing the BJP on the Ayodhya issue..