SHIFTING SANDS
India Today|October 26, 2020
SHIFTING SANDS
On October 11, in Bihar’s Gaya district, two senior BJP leaders—national president J.P. Nadda and state president Sanjay Jaiswal—obliquely addressed a simmering problem in the run-up to the state assembly election.
Amitabh Srivastava

“Narendra Modiji ka aadesh hai ki Bihar ke agle mukhyamantri Nitish Kumar honge,” said Jaiswal. “Jo Nitish Kumar ke saath nahin hai, woh Modiji ke saath nahin ho sakta (Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said Nitish Kumar will be the next chief minister of Bihar. Those who are not with Nitish Kumar cannot be with Narendra Modi).” Nadda reinforced that message in his 29-minute address, taking pains to highlight how much Nitish has done for Bihar.

Their speeches were more significant for what was left unsaid. In the run-up to the election, Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) president Chirag Paswan— an NDA (National Democratic Allia nce) ally—has had Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) (Janata Dal United) in the crosshairs, even targeting his ‘Saat Nishchay’ pitch and canvassing for his own ‘Bihar First, Bihari First’ campaign. Nonetheless, neither Jaiswal nor Nadda mentioned him by name, and while their support for Nitish was categorical, political watchers are reading between the lines and finding this ambivalence a giveaway of their tacit approval of Chirag’s manoeuvres.

State BJP members say this might have been in deference to the passing of Chirag’s father Ram Vilas Paswan, who died on October 8, or perhaps to communicate through their silence that the new LJP chief was not important enough to publicly censure. However, JD(U) leaders say that by not making their stand clear, the BJP has allowed Paswan to damage the perception of unity in the NDA. They also say that with the assembly election just weeks away—it is to be held in three phases, on October 28, November 3 and November 7—the studied silence suggests the BJP is keeping its options open for post-election negotiations.

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October 26, 2020