New Delhi: Even as the NDA struggles to arrive at a consensus on a Presidential candidate, its allies have now also sparked a debate on the Prime Ministerial candidate for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The NDA now appears to be a bitterly divided house, with the Nitish Kumar-Narendra Modi rivalry extending to the Prime Ministerial debate.
JD(U) leader and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on Tuesday sparked of the Prime Ministerial candidate debate by indirectly saying that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi was unacceptable as the Prime Minister. In an interview to the national daily 'Economic Times', Nitish Kumar insisted that the NDA should name its Prime Ministerial candidate before the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and the candidate must have secular credentials and a liberal frame of mind.
Even as Nitish stayed away from taking names, JD(U) leader Devesh Chandra Thakur came out strongly against Modi. When asked if the JD(U) will part ways with the BJP if Modi is chosen, Thakur said, "Absolutely, there is no doubt about it. If a leader with a communal image is projected we will object and we will part ways." The JD(U) objection comes close on the heels of the party opposing BJP's strategy of a contest against UPA's Presidential nominee Pranab Mukherjee.
The Nitish-Modi rivalry has been on a high for the past few days. Modi took a dig at politicians from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar for what the Gujarat Chief Minister calls resorting to caste based politics. Nitish had then said that Modi, who has been a constant irritant in the JD(U)-BJP coalition ties in Bihar, should mind his own business instead of making comments on others. "One should think about one's own situation (Bihar par tippani karne walon ko apne halaat ke bare me sochana chahiye)", he had told reporters in reply to a question when asked for his reaction to Modi's remarks targeting Bihar leaders.
NDA's key ally Shiv Sena has also backed Nitish saying that the NDA's Prime Ministerial candidate should be announced before the 2014 Lok Sabha polls by the NDA collectively and not just the BJP. "I agree with what Nitish Kumar has said. The NDA's Prime Ministerial candidate should be announced well before 2014. I agree with Nitish that the decision has to be of the NDA collectively and not the BJP alone. All allies like the JDU, Akali Dal have to be on board," Raut said. The Shiv Sena has also openly come out in Pranab's support in the race for the President's post, even as the BJP is keen on a contest against Pranab.
Even as Nitish Kumar got talking about the NDA's Prime Ministerial candidate, the state's Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi said it was too early to talk about it. "I do not know what has been said. The 2014 elections are far away, it's too early to talk about them. The Prime Ministerial candidate will be decided by the party and then the NDA. The Prime Ministerial candidate will be decided by the NDA and not the BJP," Modi said. Denying any rift within the NDA, Modi said, "The NDA alliance is not in danger in Bihar, it is strong here."
The Congress has also welcomed Nitish Kumar's demand for a secular Prime Minister. "Be it the NDA or any party, if they emphasise that our Prime Minister should be secular, then it's a welcome thing," Law Minister Salman Khurshid said.
The BJP, who in the recent past was seen attacking the UPA for its internal infighting, now seems to have been caught in the same situation. Its allies are taking independent stands and the anti-Modi wave appears to be splitting the NDA indicating the formation of a possible third front.
Meanwhile, Gujarat BJP leader and former Gujarat chief minister Keshubhai Patel met senior BJP leader LK Advani in Delhi expressing his anti-Modi sentiments. Keshubhai's aide Sanjay Joshi had to quit the BJP after pressure from Modi. The anti-Modi wave has evidently left the NDA divided.