Saturday, July 7, 2012

When Lotus hits arrow

The police from a BJP-ruled state of Karnataka come to a NDA-ruled state of Bihar (where BJP is junior coalition partner in the government headed by chief minister Nitish Kumar) to arrest a suspected terrorist and then produce the arrested youth before a judicial magistrate in a third state—the BJP-ruled Jharkhand. Was this a sheer coincidence or does this tell the grown-up distrust between BJP and JD-U? Manoj Chaurasia tries to find out the answer…

THEY had joined hands together to throw out the “corrupt and inefficient” government of Lalu Prasad and his wife Rabri Devi, the first couple to rule Bihar for 15 years by turns, although their ideologies poled apart— one professing socialist ideals while the other taking to the route of hard-line Hindutva as its political agenda centred around construction of a magnificent Ram Temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya. The strange political “handshake” of the time between the rightist BJP and the “socialist” Samata Party of Nitish Kumar, which later merged with the JD-U, had taken place during the 1996 general elections when the NDA government headed by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee first came to power at the centre – well after the demolition of Barbri mosque on 6 December 1992, highlighting their political urgency to capture throne of Patliputra. Now that the goal is achieved, the NDA partners, as is being said, are frequently looking for ways to separate as cracks in their relations are now only too visible, almost beyond repairs. Rather, it can be said their infighting has assumed alarming proportion so much so that they are now viewing each other with suspicion. The recent arrest of an alleged terrorist Mohammad Kafil Ahmad suspected to have been involved 2010 Chinanswami stadium blast in Bangalore by the Karnataka police from Bihar is a pointer to the fact.

See the sequence of events: The police from a BJP-ruled state of Karnataka come to a NDA-ruled state of Bihar (where BJP is junior coalition partner in the government headed by chief minister Nitish Kumar) to arrest a suspected terrorist and then produce the arrested youth before a judicial magistrate in a third state—the BJP-ruled Jharkhand. The arrest is made from Barh-Samalia village in north Bihar’s Darbhanga district past weekend without informing the local authorities, shortly after the Bihar chief minister had raised the issue of recurring violation of state boundaries by some states during the recently held meeting in New Delhi over National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC).

The moot question now here is that why the Karnataka police chose to travel about 425 km on the hot and humid weather to reach Ranchi to produce the arrested “terrorist” in a court there, instead of covering just 130 km to reach Patna and complete the basic legal formalities? Moreover, there is also a direct flight between Patna and Bangalore. Further, why did the Karnataka police produce the arrested youth in a Jharkhand court although the place of arrest falls under the jurisdiction of Bihar? The answer is not far away to seek. A letter by the Karnataka chief minister Sadanand Gowda to his Bihar counterpart after the latter strongly objected to the manner in which the arrest was made seems lifting the veil over the suspense griping the arrest drama. In his letter Gowda cites “paucity of time” and “fear of the accused to escape police arrest” behind his police’s logic to produce the arrested “terrorist” in a Ranchi court.

However, the very logic fails to cut any ice with the Bihar chief minister as is evident from his letter addressed to his Karnataka counterpart, “You will acknowledge that there should be no apprehension in mind of any visiting officer of any state about the professional integrity of such senior police officers available at Darbhanga (the place of arrest). Hence, the visiting team of officers (from Karnataka) since 5 May 2012 had ample time and opportunity to organise their operation by taking our officers into confidence”. The exchange of their letters brings out some important points – one chief minister citing “paucity of time” and “fear of accused to escape” while other asserting that “professional integrity” of his officers should not be doubted.

Was all these a mere coincidence or is it the outcome of the growing distrust between the BJP and the JD-U over the years? Whatever may be the reason but it is a reality that warmth between two NDA partners is totally missing now and the present development could be the outcome of the growing distrust between them. The situation has come to such a passé that what once appeared to a fight between the two alliance partners has now turned into a full-blown fight between the JD-U and BJP-ruled states.

Although several times during the past three years, the police from other states, such as Maharashtra and Delhi, raided Bihar to arrest nearly a dozen youths suspected to have involved in many terrorist activities like Mumbai terrorist attacks and Delhi High Court blasts, the Bihar chief minister had only muted protests. He reacted angrily only after noticing the Karnataka police’s daredevilry. The anger of the Bihar chief minister is underlined from the fact that not only did he shot off a letter to his Karnataka counterpart but also his police lodged a formal protest with the Karnataka DGP. The Bihar CM is also expected to take up the matter with the Union Home Ministry. The JD-U leadership in Bihar has further vented its anger towards its alliance partner over the way a senior BJP leader and health minister in the Nitish Kumar government Ashwini Kumar Choube supported the candidature of Modi at a function held in Gujarat early this month to mark 100 years of the creation of Bihar. “Mr Modi should aim for PM’s post and Bihar will support his candidature”, remarked Choube at the function in the presence of Gujarat CM, prompting the JD-U to seek clarification from the BJP as to if it was the official view of the alliance partner. The BJP replied in the negative saying it was “personal” view of the minister.

The tug-of-war between the NDA partners has intensified especially in the aftermath of the BJP chief Nitin Gadkari backed by the RSS unsuccessfully trying to project Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi as the NDA Prime Ministerial candidate while the Bihar chief minister now nurses this big ambition. It was due to this ambition that Mr Kumar decided to flag off the “Jan Chetana Yatra” of LK Advani launched from JP birth place in October last year. Initially Advani was to launch his yatra from Gujarat but he finally shifted to Bihar since Modi refused to lend his support, perceiving it as threats to his candidature. Mr Kumar was only too quick to flag off Advani’s yatra since he too finds Modi a bigger threat to his prime ministerial ambition. With his eyes firmly set on set on “Mission Delhi”, Kumar has gone on extensively wooing the minorities by launching a series of programmes aimed at winning the faith the Muslim community who accounts for 16 percent of the total vote share quite instrumental in deciding the fate of any government.  JD-U insiders say Mr Kumar’s mission this time is to win all the 40 Lok Sabha seats of Bihar in the next 2014 general election. Apparently apprehending that the JD-U may dump them at any time in its bid to claim the throne for New Delhi, the BJP has resorted to hardline Hindutva to woo the hardcore Hindu voters. A sudden spurt in RSS activities in the state tells much. 

Mr Kumar’s repulsion towards Modi is only too well-known. Since the time he came to power after November 2005 assembly elections in Bihar, the Bihar chief minister has not allowed Mr Modi to campaign for the NDA candidates, neither during the April-May 2009 Lok Sabha polls nor during the October-November 2010 assembly polls in Bihar. Earlier, during the May 2010 BJP national executive body meeting held in Patna, the chief minister had cancelled dinner hosted in honour of the vising guests and even returned Rs 5 crore cheque to Gujarat government donated for the 2008 Kosi disaster merely after the BJP carried an advertisement in local dailies showing the Bihar chief minister clasping hands with Modi.
As of now the battle between the two partners has become just order of the day as both the partners have begun encroaching into each other’s vote bank. While the BJP has begun wooing Mahadalits (extremely backward caste) which the JD-U claims its vote-bank, the latter has started holding minority class rallies in the constituencies held by the saffron party. This has led to tension between the two partners. This was visible during the recent UP assembly elections where the BJP refused to accept the JD-U’s seat-sharing deal as the two partners fought against each other. The JD-U reacted soon by not sparing the third seat for its partners during the recent Rajya Sabha elections to six seats in Bihar. Eventually, the JD-U walked away with four RS seats against only two spared for the BJP.

The JD-U has begun cold-shouldering the BJP over one issue after another shortly after it has reached near the majority mark. Right now, the total strength of the JD-U in the Bihar Legislative Assembly is 118, which is only four short of the majority mark. Yet forming government on its own is not the problem of the JD-U given the fact it has also the support of six independents. Perhaps Mr Kumar has this in mind that the Muslims votes may go en-bloc to the JD-U if goes it alone at the polls, severing ties with the BJP. Apparently this has forced the BJP to keep a barb on its partner in various ways.

Strangely, Nitish Kumar as the chief minister has been the creation of BJP, and not the JD-U which now has gone on dominating over its saffron friend. The NDA had got only 92 seats (JD-U- 55 and BJP-37) in the 243-member Bihar assembly when it went to the polls without declaring its chief ministerial candidate during the February-March 2005 assembly election. NDA’s prospects were married further when the then JDU’s national president George Fernandes, while replying to a query by the newsmen, denied Mr Kumar would be the chief minister in the event of NDA gaining majority stating that the matter will be decided after polls. (It was apparently after this that serious differences grew between Mr Kumar and Fernandes who later was not only robbed off party presidentship but also had to shift to his old constituency of Muzaffarpur during the 2009 LS polls which he lost badly). However, since the assembly results threw up hung House, it was finally dissolved within seven months of polling had taken place. In the next assembly elections held in October-November the same, the NDA though widely projected Mr Kumar as the Chief Ministerial candidate and it was finally able to form government in the state with coalition together bagging 143 seats (JD-U-88 and BJP-55). In the last 2010 assembly polls, the NDA just created a history when it made a clean sweep in the state winning 206 seats (JD-U 115 and BJP-91) in the 243-mmeber state assembly.

But, the chief minister despite all poll calculations in his mind and anguish towards his partners appears to be in double mind on the issue of throwing out the BJP from its boat. The JD-U knows that BJP is a cadre-based national party which is support base among the upper castes and business while its presence is limited to only few states with its following in a section of backward class and too some extent in minorities. There is also a view within the JD-U that upper caste voters may turn against it in the event of breaking relations with the BJP which came to its rescue during bad phases of its life. Apparently this fear is preventing the chief minister from severing ties with its saffron party but politics is the game of unpredictable and nothing can be said for sure in politics.

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