Thursday, 20 August 2015

A PROBLEM OF PLENTY


Months before the all important state of Bihar goes to the polls, the BJP is literally 'spoilt for choices' as far as the candidature of the Chief Minister is concerned, something that it would have definitely liked to avoid at this critical juncture. While the mega coalition of non-NDA parties has reached a consensus on the candidature of the incumbent CM Nitish Kumar, much to the surprise of most analyst and observers, the saffron outfit led Front has decided to stick to the stand it has taken ever since the rise of Narenda Modi of fighting the state elections under the leadership of the Prime Minister. Of course, this is completely in contrast to the BJP of the past which would declare its leader much before the polls. Meanwhile, it is easy to comprehend why the saffron leadership is keeping all the cards close to its chest on this rather contentious issue. With the state unit of the party split into various factions, each rallying behind its own leader, it makes a lot of sense to the BJP not to 'displease' any of its influential 'netas' in the state and risk being 'abandoned' by their supporters. In this high stakes battle where the entire political spectrum has put behind its weight firmly behind the Nitish led Janata Parivaar (JP), it is extremely crucial for the saffron camp to maintain unity and discipline to pull off a memorable win.

Sushil Kumar Modi, the deputy CM in the erstwhile JD-U and BJP government in Patna for eight years is considered to be the numero uno contender for top post if the party manages to trounce the JP and win a comfortable majority. A product of the Emergency that gave the state some of its tallest leaders including Nitish and Lalu, he as the Finance Minister is credited along with the JD-U supremo of transforming Bihar from Lalu's 'Jungle Raj' to one of the fastest growing big states in the country. Perhaps the most well known face from the saffron camp in the state, Modi also has the firm backing of the RSS, an organization that he has been a member of for nearly five decades. Two Bihari minister in the Union government - Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan and Minister of State for Skill Development Rajiv Pratap Rudy have already put their weight behind him whereas sources suggest that party's in-charge of Bihar unit Ananth Kumar too is in favor of him. On the other hand though, there is a strong anti-Sushil Modi camp within the saffron ranks led by the likes of four time MLA Rameshwar Chaurasia, C P Thakur and Prem Kumar which is trying its best to undermine his growing influence. Moreover, the defeat of the NDA in the 2014 state by-polls is cited by many as an example of him failing to inspire the cadre in tackling a formidable Opposition. Lastly, in a state where 'caste' factors dominate electoral calculations, Modi as the leader of the Vaishya community which constitutes 5% of the electorate may not be acceptable to the more dominant Yadavs or Maha-Dalits.

Nand Kishore Yadav, the Leader of Opposition in the state legislative assembly belongs to the influential Yadav community and has been with the BJP for long to be made the CM. However, he lacks the kind of popularity that someone like Sushil Modi enjoys. In the times of Narendra Modi when there seems to be a deliberate attempt within the party to thwart 'strong' saffron state leaders, this could be a positive. Another likely option from the Yadav community is former RJD strongman Ramkripal Yadav. Having moved to the BJP after being denied a ticket from the Patliputra parliamentary seat in 2014, he is presently serving as the Union Minister for Drinking Water and Sanitation. Projecting a non-Upper Caste leader as its CM candidate though is likely to backfire on the party as its 'loyal' vote bank that constitutes 11% of the votes may feel 'let down'.

Speaking of Cabinet Ministers, the names of Ravi Shankar Prasad and Giriraj Singh too are believed to be doing the rounds in the party circles. The former who is managing the ministries of Communications and Information Technology is well-known in political spectrum and may emerge as a consensus candidate to keep the warring factions at bay; sadly, he lacks mass appeal. On the other hand, Giriraj Singh is a prominent face of the Bhumihars, a sub-caste within the Upper Castes that have been with the party since the Mandal era. Apart from the RSS background, another thing that works in his favor is his unflinching loyalty to Narendra Modi. At a time when the PM had very few friends in BJP's Bihar state unit, Singh had always stood behind him. Unfortunately for him though, Giriraj has a off late embarrassed the party and the government by his 'radical' views. Handing the reins of such an important state to a 'loose' canon like him may be the perfect recipe for disaster in the long run. Also, such a move could polarize the elections, further strengthening the Muslim support for the JP alliance.

A few old timers too are said to be lobbying for the post of the Chief Minister sensing a saffron victory in the state polls. C P Thakur, a Bhumihar and senior party leader at a press conference has announced his availability to lead the state if called upon to do so though his elevation is highly unlikely. When one of Bihar BJP's most prominent face Shatrughan Sinha was not given a berth in the Union government, it was believed that he could be declared the party's CM candidate for the state polls. However, over the months, the movie star who is seen close to Advani has been given the cold shoulder and there are speculations that he may even quit the saffron outfit in the near future. Gaya strongman and Extremely Backward Class leader Prem Kumar is said to be the 'dark horse' in the race for the top post. The seven time MLA who was close to Sushil Modi earlier has come out of the shadows and is making a strong pitch for his own candidature.

As if the numerable choices for the CM within the saffron camps were not enough, its allies within the NDA too have voiced their opinion on the issue. The Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) passed a resolution on 21 June asking for its supremo and Lok Sabha MP Upendra Kushwaha to be named as the NDA's CM candidate. Jitan Ram Manjhi whose Hindustan Awaam Manch (HAM) is also a part of the BJP led alliance is said to be nursing Chief Ministerial ambitions. After being at the helm of affairs for a few months, Manjhi is said to be the foremost Maha-Dalit leader in the state at present. Like Manjhi, another saffron ally - Ramvilas Paswan of the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) too is playing it 'safe' for the time being. Like Manjhi, he has said that he will accept whatever decision the PM takes on this matter. Sources close to the Hajipur strongman know that he is just waiting for the right time before he thinks of pitching in. Certainly, the race for 1 Anne Marg in Patna within the NDA is heating up even before the state polls.