BJP won’t dump Modi for Nitish, NDA headed for split

NEW DELHI: NDA on Sunday looked set to split in a few months after BJP virtually rejectedNitish Kumar’s demand to rule out Narendra Modi as the party’s prime ministerial candidate by the year-end and ignored the Bihar CM’s warning that he would walk out of the opposition grouping if his wishes were not complied with.

Kumar’s warning came in a hard-hitting speech aimed at Modi where he, without taking names, rejected the BJP leader’s candidature for the powerful political office on the ground of lack of “secular” credentials and for pursuing a growth model which was exclusive and not humane.

“We have worked well under Atal Bihari Vajpayee and our coalition has run smoothly in Bihar, but we cannot compromise with our fundamental principles like secularism,” Kumar said in his much-awaited address to the JD(U) national council.

He said Vajpayee deserved to be the PM because he believed in Raj Dharma or fair play: an allusion to the former prime minister’s advice to Modi when he faced criticism of being biased in the handling of post-Godhra riots.

The party’s political resolution, shaped by Kumar, also insisted that the BJP must declare a candidate and that too well in advance in order to eliminate the possibility of Modi being brought in surreptitiously either in the immediate run-up to the polls or afterwards. It said that the BJP, being the largest NDA constituent, should announce the name of its candidate “at the earliest and certainly before the end of the year”.

BJP responded to the provocation by rallying around Modi and by admonishing Kumar for diluting the “focus of removing the UPA”. “We reject all unfounded inferences against Shri Narendra Modi,” the party said after an emergency huddle of its functionaries: a clear sign that the fear of loss of an important ally had failed to stem the growing momentum for Modi’s projection as PM candidate.

‘Modi can get 200 seats’

Party sources said Kumar’s aggression may have only boosted Modi’s claim to lead the party in the 2014 race. “Modi can propel the NDA to a tally of 200 seats. Why should we junk that for the sake of 20-odd seats in Bihar,” a party general secretary said, reflecting BJP’s defiance.

Kumar had said that the two parties which together won 32 of the 40 Lok Sabha seats in Bihar could sweep the state again if the BJP signed off on his “no-to-Modi” stand and kept “outside forces” — a reference to Modi — at bay.

Although the 17-year alliance between the two parties is unlikely to unravel swiftly and their coalition government in Bihar may limp along for some more time, both sides conceded that it looked damaged beyond repair. JD(U) sources said the split may happen much before December if Kumar feels the BJP was going to anoint Modi. The party authorized him and Sharad Yadav to take the final call at the appropriate time.

As a matter of fact, JD(U) sources said Kumar launched the frontal assault on Modi, which seemed to more than match the severity of Congress’s regular attacks on the Gujarat CM, after BJP chief Rajnath Singh and party leader Arun Jaitley failed to assure him on Saturday night that Modi would not be projected as BJP’s prime ministerial candidate.

“A diverse, pluralistic, multi-faith and multi-ethnic country can be led by only such person who has secular credentials and an inclusive outlook, and who can carry all sections of society,” Kumar told his colleagues.

He did not mention Modi but the eligibility criteria, which was also emphasized through JD(U)’s political resolution that Kumar shaped, seemed especially designed to disqualify the Gujarat CM who has been accused of not stopping anti-Muslim violence on his watch in 2002.

The resolution stressed the PM candidate should “have secular credentials with no rough edges or divisive traits so as to inspire trust and confidence of a large diverse, pluralistic and multi-ethnic society like ours”.

It further said, “Have governance ability for credible leadership to achieve inclusive social and economic growth” — again a skimpily veiled reference to the criticism that growth in Gujarat under Modi had not helped several sections, Muslims included.

In a speech which skipped any reference to UPA, Kumar picked apart each claim that Modi partisans have put forward to argue that he is PM material. He lampooned the “model” of growth where people did not get drinking water and where children suffered from malnourishment.

Echoing the criticism of Gujarat model for allegedly bypassing minorities and other vulnerable sections, he criticized the obsession with GDP and argued that growth must be accompanied by justice and the strategies should be humane.

The Bihar CM dismissed the argument that the country in order to grow faster needed a strong leadership that Modi alone could provide. “This country is too huge and diverse to be whipped into submission. People will heed those who are capable of showing love and affection and of taking everybody along,” he said.

He also said that in a country marked by plurality and diversity, a leader ought to be sensitive to all. “He will have to do many things, including wearing cap”: a clear reference to Modi’s refusal to wear a skull cap offered to him by Muslims during his Sadbhavana Yatra. As against this, he cited how he was able to win over the confidence of Muslims who were initially not warm towards him.

Kumar argued that Gujarat had grown because of a culture which has historically been conducive to trade and because of geographical advantages like a coastline. In contrast, the growth in Bihar under him had happened from scratch. “We cannot ignore which state started from where when we compare their growth rates,” he said, adding that policies followed in one state could not be replicated across the country.

The Bihar CM also referred to his confrontation with the BJP over Modi in 2010 when he prevailed over the BJP leadership not to let Modi campaign in his state. “At that time trouble was sought to be created, but no damage was done because my advice was heeded.”