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Why Nitish's anti-Modi move is a political masterstroke

By Sheela Bhatt
Last updated on: June 29, 2012 20:34 IST
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Nitish Kumar's sneak attack on Narendra Modi is an attempt to wean away the Muslim vote from his state political rival Lalu Yadav as also a move to project himself as a PM candidate if the situation turns out favourable after the 2014 general election, says Sheela Bhatt.

'Kahin pe nigahe, kahin pe nishana' that's how a well-versed bureaucrat in close touch with Bihar Chief minister Nitish Kumar's government described Kumar's move to use the 'Modi card' on the eve of the presidential election.

Political observers based in Patna claim that by hitting out at Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, without naming him, in an Economic Times interview Kumar is aiming to weaken Lalu Yadav, his arch rival in the state and chief of the Rashtriya Janata Dal. 

Kumar has many apprehensions for the future and he particularly wants to fight the 2014 Lok Sabha election with all the might at his command.

In the last two assembly elections he has shown his mastery over caste politics. He separated the Paswan community from 'ati-Dalits' (the most backward Dalits) like mushahars (rat killers) and he aimed at small communities with 1 or 2 percent population. He also separated Other Backward Class and took away a large chunk of Lalu Yadav and Ramvilas Paswan's vote-base. In his catchment area, his coalition with the Bharatiya Janata party added the upper castes and the Bhumihars.

But this masterly woven caste combination has already been encashed. It is believed that Kumar wants to use the Modi card to give a clarion call to the Muslims of Bihar. He wants to ensure that Lalu Yadav, who has started moving in the districts and villages of the state, does not resurrect politically.

Development of the state is a painfully slow process and Kumar knows that he will need an emotive issue to cross the next hurdle at time of the general election.

To keep Lalu under pressure there is no option for Kumar but to pit himself against Modi and ensure that Muslims understand that if on the national stage Modi is becoming powerful they must strengthen Kumar in Bihar. Nitish's Modi card is expected to shift Lalu's loyal Muslim voters towards Kumar.

The most important thing is a recent population survey that is expected to throw up surprising figures of the Muslim population in Bihar.

An officer working in the Intelligence Bureau says that the new demographic survey is expected to show that Bihar's Muslim population has increased much more than the national average. That means the caste card will become less effective and obviously, the Modi card will become potent electorally.

The expected demographic changes in Bihar and Kumar's move to emerge at the other end of the political spectrum against Modi are interconnected. The more he hits at Modi at the national level, more Lalu Yadav gets hit in the domestic market.

However, Nitish has more than one advantage in taking on Modi. A section within the BJP who doesn't want Modi to rise at the national level can't ask for more. They would silently back Kumar's secular pitch.  

But, above all, Nitish Kumar's masterstroke to use Modi card will help him in a certain political situation after the 2014 Lok Sabha election.

Imagine the political scenarios. There could be many permutations and combinations possible. One is Congress getting less than 150 seats and the BJP getting 30/40 more seats than Congress. Another possibility is BJP getting nearer to 200 seats and in a dominant position to impose its prime minister. Another most-talked about situation is that the third front/regional front or non-Congress and non-BJP front getting together and demanding the support of mainstream parties from outside if the Congress and the BJP get less than 250 seats.

In all three scenarios, Kumar is most likely to be the first choice of the Congress. If the Congress sees that it is not possible for it to lead the government or have its own prime minister then out of all current prime ministerial candidates from different regions of India, Kumar's political profile is most-suited to the party. 

One can safely say that, after the next Lok Sabha results, if the NDA is in position to form the government with the BJP in the lead and if it decides to give the prime minister's post to Modi, then, surely, in those crucial hours the Congress and secular parties will offer Kumar their support to check-mate Modi.

Ultimately, Kumar want to do a Naveen Patnaik on the NDA. (Patnaik pulled out of the NDA before the last Orissa elections and won). But he wants to do it in such a way that Lalu Yadav does not step into that space.

Kumar's use of the Modi card is an intelligent political move, look at it from any which way.

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Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi