There is no dearth of commentators, many of them tilted towards the BJP, who boast that though the saffron brigade is contesting the Assembly election in alliance with the Janata Dal United, it wants to cut to size the stature of Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar. To buttress their argument they cite the example of the so-called posturing of Lok Janshakti Party, the third NDA constituent.
They are of the view that it is at the instance of the BJP that Chirag Paswan is threatening to put up candidates in all the seats from where Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal United would be contesting election. No doubt, this may certainly be the wishful thinking of some BJP leaders, especially the hot-heads in the party. Two Union ministers Giriraj Singh and Ashwini Choubey are top among them. They both had served as ministers in the Nitish Kumar cabinet before June 16, 2013 when he snapped ties with the saffron party and sacked all its 11 ministers.
Choubey, in particular, has personal reason to be angry with Nitish as on that very day he was in Uttarakhand which was lashed by flash flood and lightning. Seven members of his family died in that tragedy in which a large number of pilgrims had lost their lives. But it is easier said than done. Any move to secretly damage or belittle Nitish may cost the BJP dearly. It has burnt its finger in Maharashtra and Jharkhand in the Assembly elections held in Oct and Dec last year respectively when the party tried to sound much smarter vis-a-vis Shiv Sena and All Jharkhand Students’ Union.
While in Maharashtra the alliance, arguably the longest in the country, collapsed after the election result, in Jharkhand the BJP had to pay heavily as the seat-sharing talks failed just before the polls. Again AJSU was the oldest ally (barring brief interlude) of the saffron brigade in Jharkhand ever since the creation of the state on November 15, 2000.
The AJSU, which earlier wanted to contest 17 out of 81 seats, but finally agreed on 14, broke when the BJP refused to become accommodative. The result was there for everyone to see. Not only the BJP was routed, even its chief minister Raghubar Das and the state unit president Laxman Gilwa, lost from their respective Assembly seats.
As the BJP has the habit of eating into the support base of alliance partners the latter always remain vigilant.Though the LJP on Sep 12 showed some sign of flexibility yet if it really puts up candidates against allthe Janata Dal United candidates it would not only harm the latter but has the potential to mar the prospect of the entire National Democratic Alliance.
As per the latest report LJP chief Chirag Paswan had during his meeting with BJP president J P Nadda on Sep 15 reportedly told him that the saffron party should not contest less seat than Janata Dal United. A day later on Sep 16 the top brass of the LJP met to take the decision on putting up candidates in at least 143 seats.Political observers are of the view that Chirag was expecting some deal after his meeting with the Union home minister Amit Shah, which could not be materialised perhaps because of the health problem of the latter.
Nadda was back from Patna only a couple of days back where he met chief minister Nitish Kumar. The BJP may certainly like to fight election on equal footing with Janata Dal United as in the last Lok Sabha poll when both the parties contested 17 seats but at present do not want to take any risk and secretly back any other person as the chief ministerial candidate.With the passage of each day the contest is becoming tougher and tougher and hardening of stance by Chirag may prove fatal for the entire NDA.
It must also be born in the mind that in Maharashtra and Jharkhand, the BJP was much stronger party and had its own chief minister– Devendra Fadnavis and Raghubar Das. In Bihar, it has to play the second fiddle.
(Soroor Ahmed is a senior journalist based in Patna. The views are personal.)