The decision of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to part company with the grand alliance and align with Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has apparently stunned the opposition parties and all those who had some faith in his secular stance. Not too long ago Kumar had opposed accepting Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister primarily because of the latter’s role as chief minister during the phase of Gujarat-carnage. The alacrity with which Kumar has changed his approach on this issue has apparently not gone too well with members of his own party, Janata Dal-United (JD-U). For the moment, BJP may be delighted at the apparent impact that Modi-wave has had on assuring it alliance with another party from the ranks of opposition. This has brought BJP in power in yet another state, though not solely on its own strength. The confidence that opposition parties may have had in repeating the success they had in Bihar assembly elections (2015) by defeating the BJP through a grand alliance has apparently been shaken up considerably.
Would it be fair to assume that Modi-wave is having a major impact in weakening the opposition and attracting its members to its camp? The same question may be put a little differently. Perhaps, BJP is not totally confident of the impact of Modi-wave and is therefore making extra-efforts to create division within the opposition parties. Yes, BJP succeeded in winning the assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh (UP). However, it won less than fifty percent of the votes in UP. Definitely, BJP has started preparing the political stage for next parliamentary polls. Defeat in Bihar assembly from the then grand alliance formed against it has apparently cautioned BJP about the strength that opposition parties can display by aligning together. And creating divisions in ranks of opposition parties to prevent formation of a grand alliance against it appears to be a key political strategy that BJP is working hard at. This also suggests that apparently BJP and perhaps Modi too are not counting totally on their political success primarily because of Modi-wave.
To a degree, a hype has been created about Modi-wave. In fact, the trend in India is to give primary importance to certain individuals and/or families in political parties. At present, in BJP the going seems in favor of Modi. Earlier, when BJP was in power at the center, Atal Bihar Vajpayee was viewed as the key figure. Likewise, in Congress, after independence, the dominant figures have always been from been one family. Personalities outside the Nehru family have not held the reins of this party for too long. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was the first prime minister. Subsequently, after a gap, his daughter Indira Gandhi took charge. At present, the party is controlled by her daughter-in-law Sonia Gandhi and grandson Rahul Gandhi.
The failure of Congress party to give chance to leaders outside the Gandhi family has only contributed to weakening of this party. It may be noted, Sonia Gandhi has not always remained in the forefront. After her husband, Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, she chose to remain in the political background. This led to too many leaders rushing to take charge of the party, which led to crisis within the Congress. This was controlled when finally Sonia stepped forward and took charge of the party. Sadly, this trend is visible in most parties, that is their control being confined within hands of certain families and/or individuals.
The government in Jammu and Kashmir is decided by political fate of parties led by Abdullah family and Mufti family. Though internal strife prevails in Samajwadi Party (SP), only Mulayam Singh and his son remain in charge of the divided factions. Lalu Prasad has ensured that his family members are in the forefront in Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) headed by him. Certainly, leaders of Trinamool Congress (TC) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) cannot be blamed for confining their party reins to their family members. At the same time, given the tight hold the two ladies have on their respective parties, it is difficult to visualize fate of TC and BSP without them.
Incidentally, the strong hold of certain individuals and/or families on their specific parties also minimizes the impact of Modi-wave in their respective domains. It is as yet too early to state that in the coming elections their political strength is likely to be weakened because of Modi-wave. This point is to a degree supported by BJP’s reliance on alliance with regional parties to form government in certain states. Bihar is the latest example of such an alliance. Till Kumar parted company with the grand alliance, BJP was in the opposition. Only an alliance with JD (U) helped it be a part of Bihar government. Besides, it may be recalled, Modi-wave is said to have played a major role in helping BJP win 2014 parliamentary polls. However, during the same phase, BJP failed to win Delhi assembly elections. These were won by Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) headed by Arvind Kejriwal. True, there is no guarantee that AAP will win next Delhi polls too. If this happens, it would be more appropriate to view the same as failure of Kejriwal’s government than success of simply Modi-wave.
At the outset, recent developments suggest that BJP’s success seems highly dependent on Modi-wave. BJP’s success in attracting votes from ranks of opposition in presidential elections followed by changes in its favor in Bihar politics suggest that Modi-wave is here to stay. At the same time, the strong command held by several regional parties in their respective states cannot be ignored. Besides, the importance being given by BJP leaders to create divisions in the opposition camp and align with regional parties to head state governments is hardly suggestive of their being confident of only Modi-wave. Perhaps, the hype created about Modi-wave is a part of Modi’s strategy to prevent emergence of any other leader from BJP’s ranks as his rival. He is keen to continue in power. It is to be watched whether only the hype about Modi-wave helps him achieve this!
–Nilofar Suhrawardy is a senior journalist and writer. She has come out with two books Ayodhya Without the Communal Stamp: In the Name of Indian Secularism and Image and Substance: Modi’s First Year in Office