Indian Decade

Modi a BJP Liability?

Narendra Modi has upset Bihar coalition partner Janta Dal. Is he a liability to the BJP nationally?

After my day-long visit to see a politically changing Kolkata, I took a train for the neighbouring state of Bihar. The 500-kilometre journey from Howrah Station to Jamalpur in Bihar, took almost 12 hours rather than the 7 hours the express train is supposed to take (though my fellow passengers reassured me that 5-hour delays are quite normal).

If politics was a hot topic in Kolkata, the same was certainly true in my home state of Bihar. My visit coincided with the Bharatiya Janata Party's executive committee meeting in Bihar's capital, Patna. The presence of controversial leader Narendra Modi and the poster campaign that he launched prior to the two-day meeting that began June 12 didn’t go down well with the BJP's coalition partner, Janta Dal (United). Modi tried to use the posters to show he’s Muslim friendly, and in one poster he and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar were shown holding hands.

Kumar has never allowed Modi, a political figure known for his fascist tendencies and alleged role in the 2002 Gujarat riots in which more than 2000 Muslims were killed, to address a rally in Bihar lest it upset the minority Muslim population. With the legislative elections in Bihar just a few months away, Kumar—who is banking on the 17 percent minority vote to help him return to power—was furious when he was shown together with Modi.

Kumar cancelled a dinner party that he was going to host to celebrate the success of the coalition government over the last five years, a move that angered the BJP, which felt insulted and demanded respect for the senior coalition partner.

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As a consequence of the bickering, the executive committee meeting, which was  supposed to fine tune the strategy for the coming elections, has had made little impression on the people of Bihar except for exposing to them the inbuilt contradictions between two coalition partners with radically different ideologies and agendas.

There’s speculation that Kumar’s party might go it alone in the coming elections. If such a break-up occurs, then it would further diminish the BJP's standing and further complicate its efforts to be seen as a party with broad appeal. It would also prove how much of a liability Modi is to the right wing party's dream of regaining power in Delhi.

Guest Author

Sanjay Kumar

Sanjay Kumar is a New Delhi-based journalist and correspondent for The Diplomat.

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