In September 2012, the CounterCurrents website carried an interesting column (originally published in the Forward Press) by a Premkumar Mani, a Hindi writer, titled “A Tale of Two Friends”. In that column commenting on the relationship between the Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, Mani goes on to narrate this anecdote from 2004:
In a somber and firm voice, Nitish said, “Narendra Modi is the new face of the BJP. He comes from a most backward class. He is ghanchi, a ghanchi! It is a minority backward caste there. The BJP’s Brahmin lobby is out to defame him. Even Vajpayee has joined its ranks. Modi is a dynamic man. Meet him once and you will become his admirer. He comes from a very poor family. He is extremely simple and very diligent.” Nitish appeared to be in a state of trance. He was unstoppable. Then, fondly recalling an occasion when Modi played host to him, he concluded his monologue, “I have become his fan.”
The inevitable finally happened this weekend with Nitish Kumar’s JDU finally calling it quits from the BJP-led NDA over the elevation of Narendra Modi within the BJP. How and when Nitish Kumar developed this animosity towards Narendra Modi makes for a fascinating account of political history over the decade gone by. Between 2002 and 2007, one gets to see a number of news reports where Nitish Kumar defends the Modi Government in Gujarat against barbs from the RJD’s Lalu Yadav. Of particular interest is this speech by Nitish in Gujarat with Narendra Modi on the dais when he went on to speculate that one day Gujarat would have to give way so that the nation could benefit from Narendra Modi’s services. It is only towards the end of 2007 that one starts to see Nitish Kumar beginning to demonstrate animosity towards Narendra Modi during the campaign for the Gujarat Assembly.
It was amusing to see Sankarshan Thakur writing in The Telegraph describing the impending break-up in Bihar as an ‘honourable exit’. Ever since 2009, the conduct of Nitish Kumar and his spokespersons in Delhi has been anything but honourable towards Narendra Modi. From that infamous overreaction over a hand-grab in Punjab at the NDA rally during the 2009 Lok Sabha campaign to the disgusting cancellation of a dinner in Patna during the BJP National Executive in 2010, one sees a pattern of one way attacks and slights by Nitish Kumar even as Narendra Modi has kept sage silence.
In many ways, Nitish Kumar and his party’s petulance over Narendra Modi mirrors Shishupala’s hundred insults towards Krishna in the Mahabharata. In that episode during Yudhihstra’s Rajasuya, Shishupala finally runs out of luck after hurling the proverbial hundredth insult at Krishna before he is felled. Perhaps that proverbial hundredth indiscretion has not yet been reached in this modern day saga of Shishupala played by Nitish Kumar and his JDU.
The rank opportunism demonstrated by Nitish Kumar’s JDU underlines the significance of mission 272 for the BJP. It would be utterly naive of the BJP to expect transient political alliances to be committed towards the long-term well-being of the party making it all the more important for the BJP to chart a course towards that magic number of 272 on its own while keeping the door open to smaller parties that see merit in allying with a Narendra Modi led BJP campaign.
Whether the BJP should have bent over backwards to accommodate Nitish Kumar is a matter that will continue to be debated for sometime? Those who argue in favour of accommodation are in abject denial on the trajectory of the BJP ever since the debacle of 2004. The BJP far from breaking new ground ended up ceding what little ground it held in the eastern seaboard States over the past nine years. With the exception of Karnataka, it has not grown significantly in any new State where it did not have a base previously. It has been on decline in Assam and Odisha where it once held ground while it has barely managed to recover ground in Andhra Pradesh thanks largely to the issue of Telangana.
Back in 2011 at the peak of the Anna Hazare campaign, this columnist wrote in The Pioneer on how the BJP wasted precious political energy while being reduced to a ‘super regional party.’
The cold reality is the BJP has lost the national narrative. The BJP is now merely a super regional party with a permanent Delhi-based leadership that can neither help it break new ground nor arrest the process of slow but terminal decline staring it.
With too clever-by-half political calculations the BJP’s permanent Delhi-based leadership has timidly submitted itself to conventional wisdom that the role of the Opposition is to merely oppose the Government with rhetoric. This timidity has prevented it from taking sharp ideological positions on the UPA’s Left-liberal socio-economic agenda.
In a contest between the Congress and the BJP that is seen to be a B-team of the Congress on socio-economic issues, conventional wisdom of the 1990s no longer applies. The BJP’s leadership in Delhi may be non-dynastic and incorruptible but it no longer inspires a vision of being a credible alternative.
Three years later, in 2013 with the elevation of Narendra Modi, the BJP finally has found an anchor to begin the process of evolving as a credible alternative to the Congress. The marathon mission to get to 272 will not be completed by getting nostalgic over alliances of the past. The BJP needs to look ahead to future growth of its own merit. A beginning was made back in April when Narendra Modi took the arduous route from Shivagiri Mutt in Kerala to Patanjai Peeth in Haridwar, Uttarakhand as he sought to connect his political vision with local idioms and icons. It is along this trajectory that the marathon mission for 272 must proceed.