The BJP has gotten extra careful this time and seems to be working on a ‘Plan B’ after seeing the way Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has left everyone guessing with his conflicting stands on Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), National Register for Citizens (NRC) and the National Population Register (NPR). Although the ruling Janata Dal United (JD-U), which Nitish himself heads, has supported the Citizenship bill in Parliament, half of the party has been opposing the CAA, NRC and the NPR in public, making it a very interesting spectacle.
But the BJP is not all that “confused” with the vacillating JD-U stands and hence is working on all options to “counter” Nitish in Bihar where assembly elections are scheduled later this year. As such, it has taken a lesson from its past mistakes wherein it power slipped out of its hands, first in Maharashtra and then in Jharkhand. It was sheer stubbornness which threw the party out of power in Maharashtra, while in the case of Jharkhand, it was “over-confidence” which played spoilsport. So the saffron party wants to keep all options open — both pre-poll alliance and post-poll alliance, to ensure Bihar remains in its grip.
One got a clear hint of this when a senior BJP leader and former Union minister Sanjay Paswan not only waxed eloquent on RJD legislator Tejashwi Yadav, party chief Lalu Prasad’s younger son who heads the party on the ground, but also asserted the BJP wants the main Opposition party to stay. The RJD with 81 legislators in 243-member Bihar assembly is the main Opposition party in the state.
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“Tejashwi Yadav is an intelligent and energetic leader and has tremendous possibilities. We will welcome him if he is willing to join the NDA,” BJP leader Paswan told the media on Monday on the sidelines of the state assembly session, adding that politics is a game of possibilities.
He didn’t stop at that. He went on to say that they would form a new alliance if their party’s alliance with Nitish fell through for some reasons and claimed that his party never talked about making Bihar free from RJD. “We never said that Bihar should be RJD-free. In Bihar, the power of RJD should stay because it is the only opposition in the state, not Congress or any other political party,” Paswan asserted.
The RJD was very quick to reject these remarks, saying it would never join hands with the BJP. “The RJD was formed on the basis of social justice, secularism and socialism; ideology is the primary thing for the party than power,” former state RJD president Ram Chandra Purve commented. He added that Tejashwi is not only the son of Lalu Prasad, but his ideological heir too.
Yet political commentators say the BJP leader’s remarks cannot be entirely ignored, given the way political parties, of late, have been throwing their ideologies to the winds to stay in power. They recalled that Lalu too had come to power with the support of BJP in 1990, though at that time, BJP was not “untouchable”. The “secular” forces started maintaining distance from the BJP only after the 1992 Babri Mosque demolition.
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“Anything is possible in politics. At one point, none believed that Nitish could join hands with his political rival Lalu or go back to Narendra Modi. None imagined Mayawati will shake hands with arch-rival Mulayam Singh Yadav in UP or a ‘secular’ Congress will enter into alliance with a hardline Hindutava party headed by Uddhav Thackeray in Maharashtra but that happened,” commented political expert Sachindra Narayan.
Experts say the BJP has gotten suspicious as Nitish is giving conflicting views of late. While the JD-U supported the Citizenship Bill in Parliament, a section of leaders led by Prashant Kishor, JD-U’s national vice-president considered very close to Nitish, has been strongly criticising the legislation, in addition to the NRC and NPR. What was strange is that the Chief Minister initially maintained a studied silence over it and ignored Kishor, instead of initiating disciplinary action against his party leader for flouting the party stand.
What was further peculiar was that Nitish himself sounded “confused” over these three issues and ultimately said he was “ready” for debates over the Citizenship act and National Population Register (NPR) in Bihar assembly. “Har chiz par charcha honi chahiye (there should be debates over every issues),” Nitish said. That he made this statement on the floor of the Bihar assembly on Monday was something which the BJP has reportedly taken seriously.
The BJP is also annoyed with Nitish the way the JD-U has staked claim for a lion’s share of seats in the upcoming elections and has been hell-bent on projecting Nitish as the NDA’s chief ministerial face while a section of leaders wants change. “The people of Bihar are tired of Nitish Kumar and want some others on the state’s throne,” Paswan had said last week, adding that the BJP is capable of contesting elections alone.
Curiously, here too, the BJP leadership has failed to restrain Paswan despite repeated demands from the JD-U. Thus, Paswan’s observations can’t be simply be ignored as his own. “Paswan is being controlled by the top BJP leadership the way Prashant Kishor playing in the hands of Nitish. So the message is very clear,” explained a political watcher wishing not to be named.