Friday, July 6, 2012

Modi vs Nitish

A regional player may now hold up one end of secularism debate. Can Congress reclaim its space?
The Nitish Kumar versus Narendra Modi spectacle has been waxing and waning for some time now. In its latest version it was sparked off by an interview given by the Bihar chief minister in which he reiterated his aversion to the Gujarat chief minister without taking his name, and made it clear that his party would not brook Modi’s prime ministerial candidature in 2014. The public sparring between the two NDA partners may have subsided again, but it leaves a new suggestion in its wake: in the revived secularism debate, the two ends may no longer be held up by the BJP and the Congress-Left combine. It looks like the primary and spunky challenge to the BJP on secularism now comes from a regional party, which, ironically, also happens to be a BJP ally. It is still a long way to go to 2014, and Modi is caught up in Gujarat at least till the assembly election at the end of this year. There are other obstacles to him being declared the BJP-NDA’s PM candidate, not least of which is the robust opposition to him within the Sangh Parivar. Yet, it must be marked that on the ideological-political front, the first red flag against ‘Modi for PM’ has been planted by Nitish, not by the Congress or the Left.
Nitish may have his reasons for making this manoeuvre at this moment. Yet, those reasons may be incidental to the larger pattern that appears to be firming up in India’s politics which is reconfirmed by the JD(U)’s apparent overtaking of the Congress in the secularism argument. On most of the consequential issues today, regional parties have inserted themselves into the discussion, displacing the BJP in one and the Congress in another. If the JD(U) has all but nudged out the Congress to become the anti-Modi in the secularism debate, another regional party, the Trinamool Congress, was till recently playing the role of the main opposition to the Congress on a host of other issues from the Lokpal to federalism. On these, it is the BJP that found itself relegated even though it is the leading party of the opposition in Parliament.
The growing assertion of the regional parties presents a challenge to the Congress and the BJP — and an opportunity. How they deal with their apparent relegation will determine the course politics will take in the run-up to 2014 and beyond.