Sunday, June 24, 2012

An inexplicable act of Nitish

By Swapan Dasgupta

The past week has witnessed unconcealed jubilation in the ranks of the Congress over the apparent disarray in the NDA over the presidential election, so much so that there is talk of an UPA-3 in the air.
Some of the celebration is warranted. What once appeared to be a nail-biting contest between Pranab Mukherjee and APJ Abdul Kalam has turned out to be an entirely one-sided encounter after the former President announced that he was not in the race. The rebellion of Mamata Banerjee has been more than compensated by the support for Pranab from the Samajwadi Party, Shiv Sena, Telugu Desam Party, CPI(M), and, above all, the Janata Dal (United).
To what extent the incremental support owes to the candidate or the UPA Government is a matter of conjecture. However, what is certain is that the Congress’ political managers are drooling at the prospect of a full-scale civil war between the JD(U) and BJP over Narendra Modi, and the likelihood of Nitish Kumar opting out of the NDA altogether. The speculation has intensified following a curious defence of the UPA’s handling of the economy by the JD(U) spokesman Shivanand Tiwari. This has prompted speculation that Nitish’s attack on Modi is merely a cloak for the Bihar Chief Minister either emulating the SP and putting himself at the disposal of the highest bidder or, alternatively, emulating Naveen Patnaik and positioning himself as an independent regional force with no attachments to the national alliances.
The uncertainty is unhealthy. In earlier months, Nitish had made it quite clear to the BJP leadership that he would not hesitate to walk out of the NDA in the event the BJP chose the Gujarat Chief Minister as its face for the 2014 general election. He chose to reinforce the point after the BJP National Executive in Mumbai last month by making a big deal out of complete non-issues — Modi’s lament over caste politics in Bihar (which was actually an attack on Lalu Prasad Yadav) and the appearance of an anti-Nitish article in a magazine in which the Gujarat Government had advertised. In short, Nitish made a pre-emptive attack on the BJP.
However, it is one thing for Nitish to make clear his displeasure of the Modi project. But it does not follow that this should have prompted him to break with the NDA on the presidential election. After all, Purno Sangma wasn’t a candidate chosen unilaterally by the BJP: he was the preferred choice of the leaders of the AIADMK and Biju Janata Dal. Indeed, Naveen Patnaik spoke to Nitish last week canvassing support for Sangma. According to one source, Nitish did not offer very convincing reasons for turning down Patnaik. It is also understood that even Sharad Yadav wasn’t entirely persuaded by Nitish’s insistence on supporting the Congress nominee.
The speculation that the Bihar Chief Minister had secured firm assurances from the Centre on his long-term demand for a special Bihar package does not stand up to scrutiny. Regardless of the merits of Bihar’s claim, the UPA doesn’t have the necessary elbow room, either politically or financially, to accommodate Bihar without making a similar gesture towards West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Kerala. Manmohan Singh’s comments at the G-20 summit make it quite clear that cuts in Government spending to control a rising fiscal deficit are on the anvil. If Nitish has indeed been given commitments of special consideration by the Centre, these are valueless — and the Bihar Chief Minister knows it too.
Commitments from the Congress at this juncture are akin to receiving post-dated cheques on a tottering bank. No right thinking person would ever agree to such a scheme. And, unlike some leaders of the YSR Congress in Andhra Pradesh, SP and BSP, the Centre cannot use the CBI as a pressure point against Nitish.
Under the circumstances, Nitish’s insistence on supporting Pranab Mukherjee (who, in case, was in no danger of losing) and breaking ranks with the anti-Congress bloc makes absolutely no political sense. In warning against making Modi the PM candidate, Nitish was appealing to other leaders in the BJP with whom he enjoys a good and convivial relationship. But their inclination to listen to him has been seriously undermined by his support to the Congress for the presidential election. Not only has he blemished his otherwise impeccable anti-Congress record, he has undermined the trust he enjoyed with other regional players such as Jayalalithaa, Naveen Patnaik, Mamata and Prakash Singh Badal.
There was a time when Nitish was seriously being viewed by both a section of the BJP and other regional parties as a possible candidate for Prime Minister in a post-2014 fractured Parliament. More than anything else, this owed to his position as a principled, reliable and clean politician. With this one inexplicable act, he has put himself on par with Mulayam Singh Yadav, the perennial Artful Dodger.
Of course, there may well be unintended consequences of Nitish’s decision to break ranks with the rest of the NDA on the presidential election. Read with Mulayam’s U-turn after a mysterious nocturnal meeting, Nitish’s action may have dented the idea of a Federal Front calling the shots after the 2014 poll. The regional players still remain relevant, but the prospects of a direct confrontation between the UPA and the NDA have increased. For an India looking for clarity, this may not be such a bad thing after all.


Atul Kadhyan said...

Yeah.. Don't know why he did it but one thing looks more likely now..
BJP will be more inclined to project Modi as a face of their campaign instead of Prime ministerial candidate.. At the same time, BJP will make sure that the media is continuously highlighting that Modi will be PM If BJP gets around 200 seats alone.. To get the incremental votes...

This will suit both BJP & JD(U).. BJP will be able to expand the NDA more easily.. And JD(U)'s support of Pranab and the way they timed it with attack on Modi will convince the minority community that Nitish will not allow Modi to become PM, hence Nitish will get the much needed minority votes.. 
Everyone's happy! :)

What do you think? Could it be possible?

Atul Kadhyan said...

Just to clarify why I said that minority votes are much needed for Nitish..
It's a fact that Nitish has ambitions for the top post.. But until he is with BJP he can't get it.. Minority votes will ensure the "the end" of Laloo yadav.. JD(U) can take BJP head on in Bihar once Laloo is out of fray.. Not before that!