With the Centre keen to accede to Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s demand for a backward state tag to Bihar, the writing is very much on the wall for the BJP led National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
Die hard optimists within NDA may vehemently disagree but they have as of now nothing concrete to offer to Kumar to stop him in his flight. The Bihar Chief Minister’s currency is on an unprecedented high given the worsened fragility of the UPA alliance as also the vocal proclamation of the ‘Nitish Kumar growth model’ by his rising set of supporters outside NDA.
NDA neither has a quarrel with his backward state demand nor his growth model but is not comfortable with his latent ambition. Those outside NDA are happy to fuel Kumar’s ambitions while within BJP the chorus to anoint Narendra Modi as its candidate for the Prime Minister’s job is getting louder by the minute. Kumar has publicly said he would exit the alliance the moment Modi’s name is announced, setting off fierce rivalry between the two.
It is a tough choice for both BJP and NDA. Listen to the public sentiment and lose an able ally. Do the reverse and risk the only prospect of coming back to power after a decade.
Therefore, is there a way out for NDA to retain Kumar as also use its trump card Modi to possibly effect a change in its fortunes at general elections next year? Also, so as to ensure that Modi and Kumar are not forced to consummate all their energies in self destruction.
Yes, NDA can stitch a well crafted strategy whereby Modi and Kumar, are positioned as partners in growth rather than adversaries led by naked ambition to somehow capture power at the centre. Such an arrangement will inevitably lead to welcome softening of stated positions taken by two leaders on important national issues.
It is imperative for NDA to urgently work out the backend first and get the two together as part of a power sharing arrangement at the Centre should it want to be a serious contender for 2014. This power sharing formulae envisages that the top official position in the government be shared between Modi and Kumar with each doing two and a half years.
Admittedly, on the face of it, brokering a power share agreement is difficult and complex, especially if both involved are aspirants for the same post. But the opposition alliance including Modi and Nitish has to make up its mind: now or never?
Does not the glue of power act as a great cohesive force; a case in point being the dogged survival of the UPA regime in both its avatars? India have had a recent successful brush with power sharing arrangement that too in the sensitive and strife torn J&K state.
The Congress and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) alliance successfully completed its term with Mufti Mohamamd Sayeed of PDP and Ghulam Nabi Azad of Congress being the two respective Chief Ministers to rule the state from 2002-08. Azad and Mufti have been never known to be great friends. The state experiment thus holds important learning for the opposition alliance.
The rationale for the proposed power sharing formulae at NDA is not an exercise to somehow desperately try get to power but a healthy and cogent way to get two of India’s most modern and successful politicians to steer the country out of turbulent waters should they work together to get elected.
For those who know Modi and Kumar as arch rivals, it is time to point out the strong similarities between the two. Apart from both being in their early sixties and sharing a common first alphabet as part of their name, they have genuine strong similarities.
One: Both hail from the OBC category-Kumar a Kulak Kurmi and Modi is a Ghanchi from Gujarat.
Two: Both have assiduously, at least in public, shied away from using their background for political dividends. This (caste) is not the leitmotif of their politics, at least as yet.
Three: Both have built a reputation for themselves purely on their ability to bring development upfront as the key tool of administration.
Four: Both have distaste for personal corruption. Both have so far enjoyed a clean image.
Five: Both know how to get the best from the bureaucracy. Tenures too have been relatively stable for ‘babus’ under their regime.
Six: Both are mass leaders and enjoy support of strategists within the BJP.
Seven: While Modi is India Inc’s darling, Kumar also dreams of a prosperous Bihar with top lights of the industry happy to call the state their address.
Eight: Most importantly both have the habit of winning and are driven by the desire to extend their constituency way beyond their current turf.
This is not bad news at all for the opposition alliance. The Indian middle class, that is yet indifferent by and large to politics, would love to see politicians like Modi and Kumar together in any operative format, whatever the color of the coalition rainbow.
Professor Arvind Panagariya of Columbia University put it succinctly when he commented thus in a recent media column: “The political row between chief ministers’ Nitish Kumar and Narendra Modi has spilled over into an acrimonious debate on the performance of their respective states. Defenders of each state have gone on to rubbish the accomplishments of the other state. This is a painful spectacle since the achievements of both states are considerable and deserving of celebration rather than rebuke.”
It is not that they (Modi and Kumar) have not been together. The two campaigned together in 2009 general elections and earlier Kumar was part of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government when the Godhra riots broke out in Gujarat.
Time they put their individual egos behind for the sake of larger good of their alliance as also possibly the nation. Mr. Advani, you have your biggest assignment awaiting you. Politics, they say, is all about the art of the making possible the impossible!
[The writer is Editor-Zee Research Group (ZRG)]