After four years as president of the Janata Dal (U), Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar relinquished the post at the party’s national executive meeting in Patna on Sunday. The meeting was held in the backdrop of the defection of six of the seven JD(U) MLAs in Arunachal Pradesh to the BJP, an ally of the party with which it shares power in Bihar.
Under the circumstances, it was not surprising that the new chief of the JD(U), Ram Chandra Prasad Singh would remonstrate with the ally for snatching away its legislators. Though given the traditionally fickle loyalties of MLAs in Arunachal Pradesh and other smaller states in the region, it is doubtful if they had anything more than a transitory affiliation to the JD (U), to begin with.
Truth be told, the JD(U) has hardly any following outside of Bihar. Even in Bihar, as the recent assembly poll showed, the JD(U) has lost ground. Yet, there is no disputing that the JD (U) is an important ally of the BJP. Despite his diminishing hold on the Bihar voters, Nitish Kumar is fortunate to enjoy a national standing. His stature is higher than that of his party. It is why even though the BJP won far more seats in the recent assembly poll than its senior ally, JD (U), it still insisted on Nitish Kumar heading the coalition government.
This was no favour the BJP was doing to its ally. No. It recognised that it needed a tall leader, probably the tallest in the state at present, to helm the coalition, especially at a time when the party had lost key allies such as the Shiv Sena, the Akali Dal and, only a few days ago, Hanuman Beniwal’s RLP over the farmers’ stir. The opposition leaders would like Nitish Kumar to part company with the Modi-Shah-led BJP in order to isolate the ruling party.
The other day, former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijaya Singh, playing the oracle, said Nitish Kumar would soon leave the NDA. This may be wishful thinking but the BJP leadership does have a problem keeping its allies in good humour. Somehow, the impression has grown that the BJP leadership is arrogant, treating allies with scant respect. There is no denying that unlike the Vajpayee-led NDA, the NDA under the Modi-Shah duopoly exudes an impression of arrogance and standoffishness. A little bit of humility would do no harm. And it may boost the fortunes of the ruling dispensation.
It may be that unlike Vajpayee, reaching out to allies and building rapport with leaders in and outside the ruling alliance comes hard to Modi and Shah. The JD(U) may not have any option other than to stick with the BJP but it is for the BJP to realise that it stands to lose more than a mere state government if it fails to retain Nitish Kumar in the NDA. The loss of the intangible political capital nationally will be more for the BJP than the personal fortunes of Nitish Kumar. As for the JD(U), its decline seems irreversible given the fading appeal of the erstwhile Mandal leaders.