By walking out of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) over the ascent of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, the Janata Dal (United) has, wittingly or unwittingly, paved the way for further consolidation of Mr. Modi’s grip over the Bharatiya Janata Party.
According to sources in the BJP, some senior JD(U) leaders made a determined effort to secure a public commitment from the saffron party that Mr. Modi’s anointment as the party’s national campaign committee chief does not mean that he would necessarily be BJP’s prime ministerial candidate. However, given the mood in the party rank and file and the thinking in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, BJP leaders made it very clear to the JD(U) that the Modi question was non-negotiable. A senior BJP leader said the JD(U) should have read the writing in the wall after the manner in which senior party leader L.K. Advani, who did everything to stop the Modi juggernaut, was made to fall in line by the RSS bosses in Nagpur.
Ironically, it was the Advani episode that forced Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to exit from a 17-year-long electoral alliance. After all, on the day of Mr. Modi’s anointment in Goa, JD(U) leaders had characterised it as an “internal affair” of the BJP.
The situation changed dramatically a day later after Mr. Advani raised fundamental questions on the way the party was functioning, and talked about how it no longer resembled the political entity he was associated with since its rebirth in 1980.
Mr. Kumar could have postponed the inevitable by some more months had the RSS allowed the BJP to work out a face-saving formula to address the concerns raised by the patriarch. But once Mr. Advani caved in, Mr. Kumar was left with no option but to pull the plug.
Interestingly, hours after the split, the BJP dug out a speech made by Mr. Kumar in 2003, when he was the Railway Minister in the Vajpayee-led government, and circulated it all media outlets.
Made on the occasion of the inauguration of a railway project at Adipur, Kutch, on December 13, 2003, it quotes Mr. Kumar as saying that he was sure Mr. Modi would not continue as Chief Minister for long as the nation needed his services. Further, it quotes him as saying that while what happened in Gujarat in the past was unfortunate — a reference to the riots in the State in 2002 — it was not fair to keep harping on them at the expense of some of the spectacular achievements of the Modi government.
Reactions of central BJP leaders were on predictable lines. Party president Rajnath Singh and Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj said the break-up of the NDA was “sad and unfortunate.” BJP vice-president Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi was more strident as he asserted that “there will be no compromise on Narendra Modi, even if an alliance has to be broken once or 10 times.”