Patna: Union Home Minister and BJP president Amit Shah has put to rest speculation about the party’s relationship with ally Janata Dal (United) in Bihar, dubbing their alliance “atal” (unbreakable).
“The Janata Dal (United) and the BJP will go to the polls together, and we will fight the polls under the leadership of Nitishji. This is absolutely clear,” Shah said in an interview to News18.
He dismissed the recent war of words between the parties, saying differences of opinion were healthy in a political alliance. “Bas mat-bhed man-bhed mein nahin badalna chahiye (a difference of opinion should not turn into a change of heart),” Shah said.
Two stressful months
The last two months have been extremely stressful for the alliance after BJP leader and former Union minister Sanjay Paswan made a statement suggesting that Nitish should leave the post of Bihar CM and move to Delhi.
After 3 October, when heavy rains led to massive water-logging in Bihar, the CM received more flak from BJP leaders than the opposition for “misgovernance”.
Union minister and Begusarai MP Giriraj Singh had launched repeated attacks on Nitish Kumar after the deluge, to the extent that JD(U) national spokesperson K.C. Tyagi had appealed to PM Narendra Modi and Shah to restrain him. That is exactly what happened, as BJP working president J.P. Nadda reportedly put a gag on the senior leader.
However, it is now clear the BJP central leadership’s perception of Nitish differs from state leaders — it feels he still enjoys a substantial following among the Extremely Backward Castes.
“They do not want to take the risk of the 2020 polls becoming the 2015 polls,” said a senior BJP leader, referring to the JD(U)-RJD-Congress Grand Alliance’s victory over the BJP after Nitish split their alliance in 2013. The parties later reunited in 2017.
Shah’s statement also seems to have hushed Nitish baiters Singh and Paswan. Singh, who was in his constituency for a ‘Sankalp Yatra’ in the memory of Mahatma Gandhi, as mandated by the party for all MPs, spoke about Bapu and criticised the Congress, but remained silent on Nitish.
Paswan made himself unavailable for comment, but an aide said, “When the top leadership is making such a statement, we have nothing to say. But personally, we still feel BJP would have done better fighting the polls alone.”
JD(U) leaders have heaved a sigh of relief after Shah’s statement.
“We do not care what Giriraj Singh says. I knew that BJP-JD(U) relations were on a strong footing,” said Neeraj Kumar, a minister in Nitish’s Bihar government.
Relief for Sushil Modi too
Shah has only repeated what Bihar Deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi said on the floor of the assembly more than six months ago, when he declared that Nitish would lead the NDA in the 2020 assembly polls.
The Deputy CM told ThePrint: “I only made the statement after I got a signal from the central leadership.”
However, a section of Bihar BJP leaders wanted the party to contest alone, and said Sushil Modi’s statement wasn’t back by the central leadership. This is why Shah’s statement has brought relief to the deputy CM’s camp — it is vindication that he still enjoys confidence of the party leadership and is not being sidelined.
“It has become evident that Sushil Modi still enjoys the confidence of the central leaders,” said a BJP minister known to be in his camp.
The road ahead
Shah’s statement has come days before bypolls are to be held for four assembly seats and a Lok Sabha seat on 21 October. Nitish had kicked off a joint campaign for NDA candidates.
“Bypolls do not reflect the public sentiment, but there is a message (in the joint campaign) — that while the NDA is united, the Grand Alliance has virtually crumbled, with two of its allies, Jiten Ram Manjhi’s HAM and Mukesh Sahani’s VIP fielding their candidates in two assembly seats,” a BJP leader said.
However, there’s still a major hurdle the allies have to face — seat-sharing. BJP leaders have insisted that it will no longer play second fiddle, so it remains to be seen whether the JD(U) accommodates the BJP’s demands.