The drama began on Friday, June 11, in Patna. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar sent invitation cards to 250-odd members of the BJP National Executive (their meeting was to be held over the weekend) for dinner at the chief minister’s official residence. The cards were dispatched via BJP MP Sanjay Jha to be distributed among the BJP leaders.
But when residents of Patna read newspapers in the morning on June 12, they found a somewhat puzzling advertisement informing them that Muslims in Gujarat were not only more prosperous but had a better standard of living. Issued by the Gujarat Public Relations Department, the headline of the advertisement read: Muslims in Gujarat enjoy better education, employment opportunities, financial stability, health facilities and infrastructure. It said 73.5 per cent of the Muslims in Gujarat were literate; much higher than the national average (59.1 per cent) and higher than the overall average in Gujarat (69.1 per cent). The Gujarat government claimed that 5.4 per cent of the state government jobs were held by Muslims compared to just 2.1 per cent in West Bengal and 3.2 per cent in Delhi. The ad did not provide any data about Bihar. Muslims in Gujarat, the ad said, did better than their brethren in other states when it came to bank deposits, access to education, medical facilities and infant mortality rate.
It is clear that the ad could not have appeared without Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s approval. But Nitish Kumar was furious. He sent a message that it was OK for the rest of the BJP National Executive members to come to dinner but they should not bring either Varun Gandhi or Narendra Modi with them.
When the National Executive meeting started, Bihar BJP chief C P Thakur took up the matter. "Should we go (for the dinner)? I don’t think so. This kind of behaviour is not acceptable." Around this time, the Bihar CM’s office got an SMS message from a BJP member that said: "The Executive not in a mood to attend dinner." The decision finally was to convey to Kumar that as there were quite a few pending issues for the BJP to discuss, it would extend the meeting and have a working dinner — and maybe a handful of members could go to the CM’s residence to register token presence.
The way Nitish Kumar reacted is not surprising. But why did Narendra Modi do it? Why did he purposely rile Kumar?
Maybe the target was not Kumar at all but others in the BJP.
The whole episode illustrates much more than the tension between the Janata Dal (United) and the BJP: the tensions in the current multi-polar leadership of the BJP itself.
As the BJP has begun singing the "we are all together, all united" tune of the Opposition (the parliamentary Opposition, it might be added) which is addressed to the Left parties, many in the party have staked their career on this. Whether it is Sushma Swaraj or Arun Jaitley, it is imperative now to ensure the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is not strained. With a semblance of unity in the NDA, you can reach tactical unity with a non-BJP Opposition. But what if the NDA itself is divided?
Venkaiah Naidu and Jaitley said it was important to placate the Bihar chief minister, otherwise the government in the state could fall. Now it was the turn of Modi supporters in the National Executive to raise their voice.
Two parallel strands of thinking were at work here.
It was not just the United States that denied a visa to Modi. It was also the state of Bihar that made it plain that he was not welcome in the state.
This was perfectly acceptable to some members in the BJP who are committed to the Opposition unity concept and don’t want the NDA to collapse. While ostensibly supporting Modi, they were silently applauding Nitish Kumar.
This is largely a function of the leaderlessness of the BJP and the quiet race to grab something, anything while the leadership looked the other way.
The leadership vacuum is visible in many events. Ram Jethmalani’s nomination to the Rajya Sabha, for instance, is an initiative by Modi who thinks he might need the help of a criminal lawyer in the near future.
The noose is tightening around Gujarat Home Minister Amit Shah who authorised the Sohrabuddin encounters. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has a taped conversation between a witness and the home minister. So, it could arrest Shah on that basis. It, however, won’t stop at Shah.
Interestingly, last week’s Opposition bandh was not only against the hike in fuel prices. In Gujarat, it was also against the CBI.
Watch the headlines. The CBI is going to move fast in Gujarat. And then hopes of Opposition unity "for the first time in India’s history" are going to be dashed because on communalism, the Left will allow no one to influence its line. The government knows this and is watching the moves of the Opposition indulgently, because unity can be broken with a flick of the finger. Meanwhile, the hunt is on in the BJP for an NDA-acceptable leader.