As an event meant to demonstrate squad goals, a dinner in Patna last night hosted by the BJP was a failed venture. Upendra Khushwaha, a key ally, who chose not to attend the dinner, said he should not be called out for choosing to fly into Patna pointedly the morning after. “Amit Shah too did not attend the dinner. Would you pose such a question to him?” he asked as he landed in his home state this morning.
Mr Khushwaha is one of four major components of the coalition led by the BJP in Bihar. Technically, the largest member of the group is Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s party. But as the national player, it is the BJP that gets top billing. And its pulling rank here, as in other states like Maharashtra, has led to it being resented as a bully – and with the BJP losing a series of crucial by-elections in recent months, partners are beginning to squall. Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan who heads the LNJP regional party is Member No 4 and has been upset with communal comments made by some BJP leaders in Bihar, though on record, the Dalit leader who is a regular at switching partners has said that it is “unthinkable” that he would shimmy away from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s coalition.
Ahead of the national election, now less than a year away, the BJP in Bihar finds that its partners are using its recent electoral setbacks to negotiate hard for how the state’s 40 parliamentary seats should be divided up. They’re also jostling for who should be the leader of the campaign for the entire alliance. Mr Khushwaha’s no-show was preceded by a senior leader from his party stating that the honour belongs to his boss whose caste forms 10% of Bihar’s population. Chief Minister Kumar’s Kurmi caste, he said, makes up only 4% of the state in comparison.
Mr Kumar’s Janata Dal United or JDU has been equally forceful in recently asserting itself as the “older brother” in the alliance with the BJP – an unsubtle hint of its own expectations of primacy despite the evidence that the alliance has not exactly been a success story. Mr Kumar – who quit the opposition last year to ride with the BJP – has not been given the respect that a leader of his stature merits, his aides say, in his new collaboration. PM Modi has given him none of the special financial assistance he sought for his state; his association with the BJP, he worries, is costing him credibility among Bihar’s 16 per cent Muslims. “Explain where have I compromised your interests,” he said days ago, addressing the community at a public event held after his second big electoral defeat since tying up with the BJP. On the same day, he launched an insurance scheme for farmers meant to outsmart a similar offering by the centre.
At the dinner last night, there were no speeches. Mr Kumar sat comfortably for the meal next to his deputy, Sushil Kumar Modi, with whom he shares a strong rapport. Dessert was gulab-jaamun, providing a much-needed sweet note.
Sources said the BJP’s allies are smarting about Mr Shah, the BJP chief, nor making the time to fly into town for the dinner at a time when he is on a peace-making spree with other partners like Uddhav Thackeray.
This evening, at Sushil Kumar Modi’s iftaar party, held during Ramzan to break the daily fast for Muslims, no top leader showed up – not the Chief Minister or Mr Paswan or Mr Khushwaha. Relationship trouble in Bihar for the BJP is well beyond garden variety.