With some difficulty and after much public bickering, alliance partners in Bihar, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Janata Dal (United), arrived at an understanding that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and Pilibhit MP Varun Gandhi will be kept out of the election campaign in the State lest their presence helps the rival camp consolidate Muslim votes.
No sooner has this problem been resolved than another one has cast its shadow over the joint campaign planned by the BJP-JD (U). The question that is now being asked is how Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar will justify the presence of the Ram temple campaigner L.K. Advani and the advocate for the deity Ram Lalla Virajman, Ravi Shankar Prasad, in the campaign when the impact of the Ayodhya verdict is still fresh in everybody's mind. Especially after the BJP has made it more than clear that when it talks about “reconciliation” between Hindus and Muslims, it essentially means surrender by Muslims of the one-third piece of the disputed land awarded to the Sunni Wakf Board by the Allahabad High Court verdict.
Although the BJP had earlier announced that the two parties will have many joint rallies, senior leaders in the JD(U) have begun saying that so far no plans for joint rallies have firmed up. “I have no idea of a joint rally although I talked to [Chief Minister] Nitish Kumar on telephone,” said JD(U) senior leader Shivanand Tiwari. At the same time he felt that Ayodhya would not be an issue in the Bihar election and Mr. Advani's presence would not be a problem at all.
Other observers of the political situation in Bihar in the two ruling parties are not sure of this at all. There is a view that in the 2009 Lok Sabha election and the 2005 Assembly election the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Lok Jan Shakti did badly precisely because the Muslims remained “indifferent.” Neither the Muslims nor the Yadavs came out in strength on polling day.
They said that the anger in the minority community on the Ayodhya verdict is likely to spill out on polling day this time. They are expected to vote in strength against the ruling alliance – which they almost always did as the BJP is part of it – as well as the Congress party to try their luck with the RJD-LJS combine. “Haven't you noticed? Laluji's body language has changed after the Ayodhya verdict and he can be expected to make full use of the presence of Mr. Advani and Mr. Prasad.”
Moreover, it is calculated that BJP's supporters will not be able to resist raising ‘Jai Shri Ram' slogans when they see them on election platforms. And the loser may also be the Congress which had begun seeing Muslims make their way back to the party, for right or not, they see the verdict as one more instance where the Centre has failed to secure the rights of the minority community.
The JD(U) insists that in Bihar there are only two contenders for chief ministership – Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad from the rival camp. Ayodhya may or may not be an issue, but immediately the voters have to decide between these two, and Nitish Kumar will win on the development agenda, they insisted. For the BJP though, it may be difficult to resist injecting Ayodhya into the poll campaign. For, after all, “BJP voters have always taken the bait on emotional issues and this will be our chance to make them enthusiastic about coming out in our support in a big way,” a party leader said.
And it is here that there may be a clash of interests between the BJP and the JD(U). What kind of a compromise is worked out between the two remains to be seen, but clearly the alliance partners are aware that what hurts one will also hurt the chances of the combine coming back to power. It is for this reason that the BJP ate the humble pie and quietly decided not to make Mr. Modi and Mr. Varun Gandhi campaigning in Bihar an issue, party leaders admitted in private, although, as yet, there are no clear indications how matters will turn out on Mr. Advani and Mr. Prasad campaigning in Bihar.
Keywords: Ayodhya verdict