Even as analysts are projecting the 2014 Lok Sabha elections as a war between Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi or that between the BJP and Congress, the duel between Modi and Kumar is also emerging as a major battle in that war. The politics of the biggest is the latest indicator to that.
Bihar has become a major centre of the political powerplay between the BJP and JD(U), or more precisely, between Modi and Nitish Kumar, ever since the Bihar chief minister terminated a 17-year-old alliance with the BJP in June. The state has been in the headlines since then for the terror attacks in Bodh Gaya temple, deaths of schoolchildren after having poisoned midday meal, arrest of Indian Mujahideen mastermind Yasin Bhatkal and of course, the October 27 terror attacks in a mega rally of the BJP and the subsequent visit of Modi to the families of those killed in the blasts.
Nitish Kumar has decided to tackle Modi's challenge by imitating his style
The divorce between the BJP and JD(U) in the wake of Modi's elevation in the party ranks and the explosions at his rally where he called Nitish Kumar a traitor and the latter's retaliation a day after at a party convention have all played their part in developing an intense tussle between the two chief ministers, both of whom have been regarded among the best in the country. Modi's visit to the families of the blast victims and the BJP's plan to bring him to the state again in December or January has added more fuel to the fire. The JD(U) has also decided to hold a Sankalp Rally from December onwards to counter Modi's proposed rallies.
It is not surprising that the contention between two former allies of the NDA has turned out into a personality clash between two individuals who are clearly bigger than their respective parties at this moment. But what is interesting to note is that there is a sort of role reversal for the two political leaders when it has come to their styles of self-assertion and they have done it with a clear intention to broaden their respective votebanks. While Modi has decided to erect the statue of a leader who many considers secular, Nitish Kumar is all geared up to set up a Hindu temple despite known to be a heavyweight secular leader.
Nitish eyes upper caste votes now?
Here lies the interesting part of the story. The Bihar administration under the JD(U) has been so much rattled ever since the break-up in the NDA (is that a co-incidence or has the Nitih government been weakened by the departure of the BJP) that Nitish Kumar seems to be running out of ammunition to tackle Modi in terms of development and administration. And that might have made a temple look more suitable subject for him to rake up to try to make a dent into the upper caste votebank and hence deal with Modi the other way round.
According to one report published in Anandabazaar Patrika on Thursday, sources in the JD(U) have said in close quarters that there is no question that Lord Ram lies in India's soul but that they will fight Modi and his party politically. Quite a 'this and that' statement, isn't it?
Nitish Kumar imitating Modi to take him on?
Leaders like Nitish Kumar, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawatis have been unsettled by the rise of Narendra Modi on the national stage. Till recently, their only political foe was the Congress and all these regional heavyweights dreamed of leading the nation one day at the expense of a weakening Congress. But the steady rise of Modi over the last few years have posed a big threat to their ambition and it is evident that they lack a plan to outsmart this threat. Events like Muzaffarnagar riots and the terror attacks in Bihar have been their biggest drawbacks and now there is a desperate attempt to control the damage and put up an alternative, even if that alternative is basically an imitation of the rival.
Nitish Kumar's plan for the temple is a direct imitation of Modi's plan of setting up a statue of Sardar Patel. While Modi's plan is to hijack the Congress icon to floor his party. Nitish Kumar's aim is to take advantage of Modi's transformation and allure the hardcore votebank of him and his party.
The politics in Bihar is witnessing an exciting phase at the moment.