Patna: The BJP and JD(U) appeared set for imminent parting of ways in Bihar on Sunday when chief minister Nitish Kumar meets his top party leaders to take a final call in the wake of Narendra Modi's elevation.
Further hints of the break-up in the 17-year-old alliance were given on Saturday by senior JD(U) leader Shivanand Tiwari who said the announcement of a split was a "mere formality".
As JD(U) chief Sharad Yadav arrived in Patna, the chief minister held parleys with other leaders, including MPs and MLAs. Yadav and Nitish have already been authorised by the party National Council to take a decision on the alliance with BJP in case Modi is projected by the party.
The deterioration in ties was evident when deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi and Bihar NDA convenor Nand Kishore Yadav, both BJP leaders, on Saturday spurned an invitation from Nitish for a round of discussions on the current political situation.
The BJP also appeared ready for the inevitable when senior leader Ravishankar Prasad told reporters that while it was maintaining restraint and wanted the alliance to continue in the interest of Bihar, it was "awaiting" the decision of JD(U).
BJP vice-president CP Thakur said BJP ministers would hand over their resignations tomorrow after JD(U) makes an announcement of split in NDA. Thakur also requested JD(U) leaders to enact "divorce" peacefully. "We have lived together for 17 long years so it will be better if divorce takes place peacefully," Thakur said making a request to JD(U) leaders to stop issuing "hard-hitting" statements against BJP leaders.
'Modi arrogant and divisive'
Shivanand Tiwari, who is widely perceived to reflect Nitish's views, also dubbed Modi as an "arrogant" and "divisive personality" who cannot take all sections along.
He said after what Nitish Kumar had said on Saturday, there was nothing left in the alliance to be saved. "It's (announcement of a split) only a formality," he said in clear indications of things to come.
"We have been looking for a categorical assurance that Narendra Modi will not be the prime ministerial candidate in whatsoever situation, but that has not been forthcoming from them (BJP) during talks to save the NDA," the senior JD(U) leader told .
"Let it be clear once and for all that the BJP has forced the JD(U) to walk out of the alliance by being not forthcoming on Modi's future role," he said.
"The situation will be clear by tomorrow," JD(U) chief Sharad Yadav told reporters in Patna tonight before meeting Nitish at his residence.
"I have come here for holding discussion with chief minister Nitish Kumar and other JD(U) legislators and leaders over development that have taken place in past few days to take a decision whether to continue in NDA or not," the JD(U) president, who was accompanied by general secretary KC Tyagi, said.
Immediately after arrival, Yadav went to 1 Anne Marg, official residence of the CM, and held deliberations with him.
The Bihar BJP's core committee members met for over two hours here to review fast developing political situation in Bihar following which the state unit chief Mangal Pandey defended the state party leaders' decision not to meet Nitish.
"There was no need for Modi and Yadav to visit the chief minister's official residence to meet him to discuss any matter under vitiated atmosphere between the two allies," Pandey reporters.
BJP leader Nankishore Yadav said "we are state leaders and have no authority to talk about prime ministership which only our national leaders can talk."
He said that he had told the CM that "our national leaders including party president Rajnath Singh, LK Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Nitin Gadkari and others have been talking to you and Sharad Yadav on larger political issues including PM nominee ... the subject does not fall in our jurisdiction hence there is no point meeting."
Education minister PK Shahi regretted that the two senior BJP leaders did not come to meet the chief minister at the latter's official residence where Nitish and other senior JD(U) leaders were waiting for them.
The day also saw RJD president Lalu Prasad making a scathing attack on Nitish Kumar accusing him of being an "opportunist" and said his opposition to Narendra Modi was just a "charade" to corner votes of Muslims. He questioned Kumar's secular credentials saying why did not he resign from NDA in 2002 after Gujarat riots as Ramvilas Paswan did? Prasad said Kumar had hosted RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat at One Anne Marg.
Congress woos Nitish
Meanwhile, seeking to fish in troubled waters, Congress on Saturday extended an olive branch to JD(U) describing it as a "secular and like-minded party" on the eve of a possible decision by Nitish Kumar's party to snap ties with the BJP-led NDA.
At a time when Narendra Modi has become the poster boy of the BJP, the ruling Congress called for an alliance of secular forces in nation's interest.
"JD(U) is a like-minded party, which has faith in secularism. It is in alliance with a party with which its ideology does not match," party spokesman Bhakta Charan Das told reporters sending clear signals for the first time that Congress was not averse to doing business with Kumar's party.
His comments came close on the heels of party vice-president Rahul Gandhi's remarks in Srinagar that any decision on inviting JD(U) to join UPA will be taken by senior Congress leaders.
JD(U), the second largest constituent of the NDA with 20 Lok Sabha seats, is set to walk out of a 17 year-old association with the BJP following the elevation of Narendra Modi as chief of BJP's election campaign committee. The Bihar chief minister has a strong antipathy for Modi.
The Congress' call for the coming together of "like minded secular forces" came at a time when regional leaders like Naveen Patnaik, Mamata Banerjee and Kumar are talking about the formation of a federal front of non-Congress, non-BJP parties.
"Like-minded secular parties have come together in the past and can come together even in future. Political formation of like-minded forces in the interest of the nation can happen any time," Das said.
Congress is sharing power at the Centre since May 2004 after the UPA under Sonia Gandhi ousted Atal Behari Vajpayee-led NDA from power.
It has also formed a committee headed by senior leader AK Antony to go into the issue of alliances as part of finding new friends and allies ahead of the Lok Sabha polls less than a year away.
Das steered clear of questions whether the JD(U) or the RJD is its natural ally in Bihar and which of the two it considers as more secular.
JD(U)'s principal rival in Bihar politics Lalu Prasad's RJD is an outside ally of UPA-II. Prasad was a minister in UPA-I but had contested the last Lok Sabha election in Bihar separately from Congress.
Prasad, who as chief minister of Bihar in 1990 ordered the arrest of LK Advani, when he was on Rathyatra during the peak of Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute, has repeatedly been calling for a secular alliance at the Centre for next general elections.
"Both parties advocate secularism. Today, we are with the RJD. There is no confusion on it. Tomorrow if some situation emerges, our leaders will look into that. It's not the time for us to comment on it," he said when asked which of the two Congress will prefer.
There is a view in the Congress that if JD(U) parts ways from BJP, it will most likely support Congress as Third Front cannot emerge, whereas RJD, too, will continue to back UPA.
Claiming that only Congress can provide a strong and stable government at the Centre even in future, Das said that there are internal "contradictions and confronations" within the opposition and they do not seem to be in a position to provide an alternative to Congress.