Manoj Chaurasia / The Statesman
PATNA: Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar’s frontal attack on the hard-line Hindutva forces slowly taking centre-stage within the BJP has triggered political upheavals with both the ruling partners, the JD-U and BJP, in the NDA government engaged in bitter verbal duels.
The moot question now is if Nitish's reaction was spontaneous or is it part of JD-U’s larger game-plan to dump NDA and switch over to the UPA as and when situation warranted? Nitish has set four conditions before the BJP in exchange for JD-U’s continuation in the NDA. The conditions, among others, are that NDA’s prime ministerial candidate should have “secular credentials” and “must have a feeling for backward states like Bihar”.
Although the JD-U denies, a series of developments over the past week point towards the fact that Nitish's party is eagerly waiting in the wings to switch sides. The way the JD-U chose to lend its support for UPA’s presidential nominee Pranab Mukherjee in sharp contrast to BJP which has lent its weight behind PA Sangma lends credence to the belief.
That the JD-U had already made up its mind to back the candidature of Mukherjee had become clear early this week when Nitish, during an interaction with the media persons on Monday, had sought for a consensus on presidential nominee saying “We have good relations with Pranab Babu although we don’t have bad terms with Sangamaji eitherl”.
Significantly, Nitish, as media reports said, did not entertain the phone call made to him by BJP-backed Sanagama on Monday while he has gone on record claiming both the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Mukherjee had called him up seeking his support.
Though nobody in the JD-U would agree, political circles in Patna are agog with the story that Nitish has entered into some sort of a “deal” with the Congress in exchange for lending his party support.
The “timing” of Nitish's attack on the BJP gives enough hints about something cooking up between JD-U and the Congress. See the sequence of events: On June 14, the chief minister holds a meeting of senior party leaders at his official residence in Patna at which he announces the party decision to hold massive rallies simultaneously at Patna’s Gandhi Maidan and New Delhi’s Ramlila Ground.
A day later on June 15, Congress President Sonia Gandhi declares the name of UPA presidential nominee.
Shortly thereafter, both the Prime Minister and Union Finance Minister call up the Bihar chief minister, seeking his support for presidential polls.
What transpires between Nitish and two top ministers in the UPA government is not known but shortly thereafter, on June 16, Nitish shots off a letter to the Prime Minister, requesting him to constitute an “expert committee” to look into JD-U’s demand for granting Bihar special status category.
A day later on June 18, the chief minister demanded a consensus within the NDA on Presidential nominee stating that he was not in favour of election for the post, giving wide hints that he will be going against BJP's decision.
It was not the first time that Nitish was found having “soft corner” for the Congress. Shortly before the results of 2009 LS elections were to be declared, the CM had again announced, from a public meeting held in Hotel Maurya, to lend his party support to any party which promises to give Bihar special status category, apparently hoping that the Congress will not be able to form government on its own and will require support of parties outside UPA for government formation.
The Congress was very quick to welcome Nitish’s move. But his plan to switch sides did not materialise later as the UPA itself mustered enough seats to form government on its own.
Now, Nitish apparently feels the time is ripe to be a 'fence-sitter' so that he is able to change side as per his convenience depending on which one political formulation, the NDA or the UPA, is close to forming government after 2014 general elections. After all, it is really very difficult to be in the Opposition, isn't it?