The problem for the BJP is that Mr Kumar is playing various cards simultaneously in the bargaining game.
The vultures are not required to be invited for a feast when an animal is dead,” Maharashtra chief minister Babasaheb Bhosale, who had a foot in the mouth disease, had famously remarked some four decades back as he landed in Mumbai after meeting Indira Gandhi and was about to have swearing in of his ministry.
The late Bhosale, who had succeeded the controversial A.R. Antulay, was asked by reporters as to how he could hold the swearing in ceremony in a few hours as the Congress MLAs could be needing time to reach the capital, as some of them will have to take oath as ministers.
The crude and obnoxious statement, which was soon retracted by the chief minister having been guided by his alert advisers, meant that those in the game smell the scent of power easily and, come what may, are present beforehand its distribution. The game of power is addictive and wants one to be at the top for having a larger slice.
Rightly or wrongly, it appears that several of the allies of the BJP in the NDA are not getting the scent of power post-2019 and this explains the travails of the ruling alliance, which has launched the rather awkwardly phrased “Sampark for Samarthan” campaign.
No one says these things publicly, but leaders of the sulking Shiv Sena, the oldest ideological ally of the BJP, are vouchsafing that the tally of the BJP led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party chief Amit Shah, is going down by a minimum 100 from its existing strength of 282, the highest ever achieved by the party.
Along with this there is talk in political circles, including a section of the BJP, that the Congress is set to raise its tally from the lowest 44 to a minimum of 100 whenever the Lok Sabha polls are held as 2019 is not 2014, a refrain which is quite unpalatable to the Modi bhakts who feel that their leader can never be defeated as seen in Gujarat for the past one and a half decades.
Rahul Gandhi needs to be thankful to the Prime Minister and his all and sundry supporters in the BJP and the social media for constant criticism, vicious attacks and ridiculing him that has made him a man.
If straws in the wind are any indication, the NDA is heading for a serious trouble in Bihar. JD (Unied) leader and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar has cleverly thrown the ball in the court of the BJP on the issue of seat allocation given the fact that his party has got just two seats in the last Lok Sabha polls when the JD(U) had contested against the BJP riding on the Modi wave.
Mr Kumar is not only insisting that he is the “face” of the NDA in Bihar in the Lok Sabha polls too but is also pressing for an “honourable” seat sharing arrangement for the JD(U) at a time when the sharing of seats is a ticklish task. While the BJP holds 22 seats, Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party has six and the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party of Upendra Kushwaha three.
The problem for the BJP is that Mr Kumar is playing various cards simultaneously in the bargaining game. Like N. Chandrababu Naidu of the Telugu Desam Party, who parted ways with the NDA on the special category status for Andhra Pradesh, Mr Kumar is doing likewise for Bihar.
The “Sushasan Babu” is also projecting himself as the credible face against “crime, corruption and communalism” in an apparent bid to run solo and thus preparing the ground.
Mr Shah is scheduled to be in Patna this week to play the peace pipe, but given the diverse pulls and pressures within the alliance in Bihar, it is unlikely to yield any quick result. Asking the BJP to leave some of the seats won by it is a foolhardy idea and politics does not happen like that. Mr Paswan is considered the ultimate political weathercock in Indian politics and the last word on the NDA in Bihar would not be said anytime soon.
Mr Kumar and Uddhav Thackeray may be polls apart ideologically, but given the turmoil within the NDA, the two leaders must be watching each other’s moves very intently and seriously. Mr Thackeray may have made up his mind about a life beyond the BJP and is in no hurry to take any hasty decision and could hardly care for the views and comments of the Marathi media critical of him for continuing to be part of the government at the Centre and the state while playing the role of the Opposition.
One is reminded of the way how the tallest dalit leader of the Congress, Jagjivan Ram, had bided his time during the Emergency to stage a revolt along with H.N. Bahuguna soon after Indira Gandhi called out elections.
How can one explain the daily attacks of Saamana, the mouthpiece of the Shiv Sena, which boasts of being the “world’s highly discussed newspaper” on the Prime Minister despite a “total ceasefire” from the side of the BJP on the directions of Mr Shah. The Sena had been the natural ally of the BJP for 30 years and Mr Thackeray is feeling that these years were “wasted”. All is not well in the state of Denmark.
Ironically, the BJP’s problems with the Sena are far from resolved despite being a proclaimed “natural ally”. On the other hand, it has parted ways with the People’s Democratic Party considered its “unnatural ally” by dumping Mehbooba Mufti as the Jammu and Kashmir chief minister unceremoniously at a time when problems in the Valley and the Pakistan border are worsening by the day. The PDP was never a part of the NDA.
Despite boasting some 40 odd constituents of the NDA, what Mr Modi and Mr Shah need to worry is the absence of a single credible and powerful ally in the South after parting of ways by the TDP. The only possibility is Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy of the YSR Congress, but he comes with a baggage. South has some 130 seats and the surprise Congress-JD(S) alliance in Karnataka has upset calculations of the BJP in the key state.
The real worry is Uttar Pradesh as the coming together of the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party is the writing on the wall, which will virtually make insecure almost each and every seat of the BJP and its allies.
The turmoil in the NDA appears to be the direct result of the allies not getting the scent of power after the polls notwithstanding the whipping up of “surgical strikes” again and indications of a pro-active stand on the Ayodhya sooner than later. Although the BJP is gearing up to face the 2019 polls on the plank of “Saaf niyat, sahi vikas”, the tragedy is that it is not appealing even to current allies.
The writer is a journalist based in New Delhi