SHADOW BOXING with Nitish

Even if Nitish Kumar masquerades his opposition to Narendra Modi, he would not really cause any anxiety to the RSS as long as he supports the BJP in a post-poll scenario

Sanjay Kapoor Delhi

A recent opinion poll showed that if parliamentary elections are held today then the Congress and BJP together will struggle to cross the half-way mark of 274 seats in the Lok Sabha. While common sense may be getting corroboration from pollsters, it gives little comfort to those who so desperately aspire to become prime minister of India — Narendra bhai Modi, for instance.

Pollsters say that the Congress is on a secular decline and no amount of cheat or chit funds can revive its fortune. It will lose approximately 90-odd seats and hover around 110 seats. The number of seats that have been predicted for the BJP have triggered collective gloom among those who thought that the party, under Modi’s shrill, aggressive and polarizing leadership, could repeat Gujarat in the rest of the country. Pollsters have punctured this simplistic expectation. They say that the BJP will at best get 25 seats more than the last time, that is, only 141 seats.

With such pathetic figures, the BJP and Modi’s ambitions, appear set to be badly bruised.

What sours the mood further is how the allies read this fractured ground reality. The BJP can get 141 seats when it is fighting the elections with allies. So what happens when it faces the polls without the support of allies?

One of the major allies of the BJP is the Janata Dal (United) and its support is critical. Although the JD(U) is not really parting ways with the BJP or NDA, its leader, Nitish Kumar, is slowly drawing red lines. And the red line for him is if the BJP decides to announce Modi as its PM candidate.

Nitish, whose conscience has not been troubled by the Godhra killings, the Gujarat genocide, 2002, or the rise in Hindutva terror, who backed the BJP all these 17 years, is also responding to the fractured social and political environment. Like all other non-BJP and non-Congress leaders, he has seen merit in forging post-poll alliances with a winning party rather than hitching himself to an ideology or organization that could harm his tickets and drag him down.

Pollsters say that the BJP will at best get 25 seats more than the last time, that is, only 141 seats. With such pathetic figures, the BJP and Modi’s ambitions, appear set to be badly bruised

It is common sense and native cunning that are guiding Nitish. He knows that giving legitimacy to Modi at this juncture will drive away his Muslim support base that has prospered during the last 10 years due to communal amity during his rule. He also knows that Modi’s viciously sectarian politics will hurt him and diminish him politically. If he is in alliance with the BJP with the Gujarat CM at the helm, and the NDA does well, then the credit will not go to him but to his bete noire, Modi.

To trip the latest Hindutva icon, the Bihar leader raised the issue of secularism; of why a leader has to work with both Hindus and Muslims if he wants to be prime minister of this country. This barb was directed at Modi who had refused to wear the Muslim skullcap when it was presented to him by a member of the clergy during his so-called sadbhavna fast. Nitish also tried to prove that he believes in a different ‘idea of India’ than Modi, who is being openly backed by big business.

What Nitish is saying would appeal to secularists and those who want Modi to be challenged; but his past is not really inspiring. We do not really know what he thought of the Gujarat killings and the condemnation of Muslims in Gujarat, save for some oblique references he has made in the recent past. Even if he masquerades his opposition to Modi, he would not really cause any anxiety to the RSS as long as he supports the BJP in a post-poll scenario.

Ironically, the Congress is foolishly hoping that Nitish will support it since it has given a special package to Bihar. Indeed, the Congress often sees only the mask and thinks it is real.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: MAY 2013