Views: Nitish's Modi-phobia driven by fear of Lalu-Paswan

On the surface, Narendra Modi's large stature in BJP's scheme of things has finally cast its shadow on NDA itself with Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar signalling to pull out from its fold no sooner than BJP formalised Modi's bid for prime ministerial candidate.

But, below this surface is Nitish's insecurity from Lalu Prasad–Ram Vilas Paswan combine, which arithmetically still retains a robust support base comprising RJD's Muslim-Yadav and LJP's Paswan community support bases. These put together, JDU assesses, form a critical 30 per cent vote share in Bihar's electoral battlefield.

Nitish, as Bihar chief minister, has so far managed to attract significant Muslim supporters with several initiatives, ignoring BJP's inherent objections.

Given Narendra Modi's 'association' with the 2002 Gujarat riots, JDU's assessment is that the Gujarat chief minister's projection will polarise Muslim supporters lock stock and barrel towards Lalu-Paswan in the next Lok Sabha elections, ignoring Nitish's positive outlook towards the community.

Once this peripheral minority support base returns to the RJD in the Lok Sabha elections, it will be difficult for Nitish Kumar to win them back for the Bihar Assembly elections in the near future. It is this realisation that has kept Nitish worried and forced him to confront the BJP on Modi's candidature. He wants to send the right signals to Muslims who have supported him.

Minus this faction, Nitish's carefully cobbled support base of extremely backward classes (EBCs) and Mahadalits will be left dependent on the support of upper castes. This section is tradionally supporters of the BJP since the onset of Mandal and Kamandal politics of the early 90s.

As an unchallenged leader of the anti-Lalu-Paswan forces in Bihar, Nitish does not want to reduce his independence to be at the mercy of the BJP. Consequently, he has to echo the sentiments of minority supporters, which constitute a substantial part -- over 16 per cent -- of the electorate in the state.

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