In Patna, Modi

The JD(U)-BJP break-up is a gamble for Nitish. For the BJP, the Goa decision is coming home

The promotion of Narendra Modi to a central role was always going to have a double-edged fallout for the BJP. Over the past few days, the BJP has had to confront some of the threatened consequences. L.K. Advani's revolt may have been short-lived and even lonely, but it did drive in the point and very publicly at that that Modi's ascent in his party is, in many ways, despite his party. Now, the walkout by Nitish Kumar's JD(U) from the NDA has rubbed in the difficulties that Modi's rise will create for the BJP in attracting and keeping allies in a coalition era. In spite of all his talk of the betrayal of a "fundamental" principle, it was not an abstract anxiety over secularism-in-danger that fuelled Nitish Kumar's decision. The cause for the JD(U)-BJP split has a name. He may not have been officially mentioned by the JD(U), but the Gujarat chief minister took centrestage in Patna on Sunday. Equally, this is a moment that signals that, for the BJP, there is no turning back from its declared intent to reshape itself as Modi's party.

For Nitish, Modi's rise may even have presented an irresistible opportunity in the garb of a crisis. Throughout his tenure and despite his considerable successes and achievements, Nitish has been in search of a social alliance he could call his own. Ever since he was first elected to power in Bihar in 2005, he has tried to play several cards simultaneously. He has pursued an articulate developmental agenda that Bihar had missed for decades. But he has also crafted and pursued strategies of social engineering by addressing and targeting Extremely Backward Castes (EBCs) and Mahadalits apart from invoking "Bihari pride". Yet, both the EBCs and the Mahadalits are groupings of small and scattered castes, adding up to a viable electoral combination only alongside the upper caste support the BJP brought in. Now, with this one spectacular anti-Modi gesture, Nitish's gamble could be to win over a significant section of Bihar's substantial minority vote, to shore up an EBC-Mahadalit-Muslim combination. The general election in 2014 would be a testing ground ahead of the 2015 assembly polls, for such a reworked social alliance, that has been rendered all the more crucial because of gathering anti-incumbency.

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