It says something for the Bharatiya Janata Party’s diminishing brand equity that it set out to exploit the schisms in the United Progressive Alliance ahead of the presidential election but ended up showcasing the vulnerabilities of its own alliance. From the party’s perspective, the downturn must seem unreal considering it was the Congress that was thought to have shot itself in the foot with Mamata Banerjee and Mualyam Singh pairing up to do battle on the choice of nominees for Rashtrapati Bhavan. Yet not only did Mr. Singh beat a hasty retreat, the UPA allies swiftly closed ranks behind Pranab Mukherjee, precluding any chance that they could be poached by the Opposition. As it turned out, it was the BJP’s flock that needed watching. The Shiv Sena signed up for Mr. Mukherjee amidst indications that Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar could follow suit. A shouting match has since ensued between Mr. Kumar and the sangh parivar over Narendra Modi’s potential emergence as the NDA’s Prime Ministerial candidate. The provocation came from the Gujarat Chief Minister who unfavourably compared Bihar with Gujarat at a public rally in his home State. Now, Mr. Kumar is a celebrity in his own right having finally placed backward Bihar on the growth trajectory. On the other hand, it is Mr. Modi’s shining Gujarat that has lost some of its sheen with recent statistics painting an unflattering picture for the State on the growth front as well as on human development indices.
So it was unsurprising that Mr. Kumar returned volley for volley in his quarrel with the parivar. Besides, the two State leaders have a history of discord that was revealed most famously in the run up to the 2009 general election with the Bihar Chief Minister dramatically declaring his State out of bounds for his Gujarat counterpart. Mr. Kumar may have tied up with the BJP to get the better of bête noire Lalu Prasad but he lives in fear of getting tainted by association. He needs to protect his secular image both in order to keep his Muslim and middle class following and to be able to play a larger role at the Centre. In other words, any accommodation of Mr. Modi spells political ruin for Mr. Kumar. This truth should have been evident to the BJP which has made almost no headway in alliance-building thanks to its inability to shed its sectarian image. Instead, party and parivar have pandered to the Gujarat Chief Minister’s every wish. Whatever the reason for this indulgence, they should know that with Mr. Modi in a leadership role, an expanded NDA — which is a pre-requisite for winning the next general election — will remain a pipedream.