New Delhi: The Janata Dal United brought the curtains down on its 17-year-old alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Sunday over the elevation of a man who it thinks poses serious threat to its "basic principles", denting the NDA ahead of 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi's promotion to BJP's Election Campaign Committee Chairman has cost the party its strongest ally, despite its best efforts to save the coalition.
JD(U) President Sharad Yadav and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar announced the breakup of the coalition at a press conference in Patna, exactly a week after Modi was made the BJP's campaign committee chairman, which was widely perceived as just a step short of being made the prime ministerial candidate. Yadav also quit as Convenor of the NDA.
The NDA will now head to the next year's general elections with three main constituents - BJP, Shiv Sena and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD). However, both Sena and SAD termed JD(U)'s pullout from the alliance as "unfortunate" and said elevating Modi to the poll panel chief's position was BJP's internal matter, indicating that their support to the NDA remains intact.
In a spirited attack on the JD(U)'s "betrayal", BJP President Rajnath Singh defended his party and said it has never played communal politics. He slammed the JD(U) for choosing a bad time to break ties with the BJP and said it was their time to remove Congress from the Centre together.
He also asked whether it was a crime to appoint Modi as the poll panel chief, firmly backing BJP's stand to not budge from its decision on the Gujarat Chief Minister's elevation. "Is it my crime that I appointed Narendra Modi as campaign committee head for 2014 elections? Is Modi responsible for the riots? Even during Congress rule there have been major communal riots," he said.
The party asserted that the elevation of Modi as head of Election Campaign Committee was an irreversible decision and "it will not be changed". Other BJP leaders reacted to the development saying it was "sad and unfortunate" but contended that this was "not the end of the world" and that more allies will come to NDA.
Though JD(U)'s decision comes a week after Modi's elevation in Goa, the party's National Council had a few months ago set a deadline of December asking BJP to name its PM candidate. The party has made its aversion to Modi explicitly clear on a number of occasions. Nitish had three years ago cancelled a dinner with senior BJP leaders including LK Advani because of Modi's presence.
Heading the eight-year-old coalition in Bihar, JD(U), which does not need BJP support to run the government, also removed 11 BJP ministers from the state Cabinet on Sunday and decided to seek a vote of confidence on June 19 in view of the "new situation". In the 243-member assembly, the JD(U) has 118 MLAs and BJP 91. JD(U) just needs four MLAs for a majority. Independents and 'Others' account for 8 MLAs. The main Opposition RJD has 22 and Congress four. Asked during the conference if parting company was a violation of the mandate given by the people of Bihar to NDA, Nitish pointed out, "The mandate was for the development of Bihar."
"We cannot compromise with our basic principles. We are not worried about the consequences. As long as the alliance was Bihar-centric, there was no problem. But we had no alternative now. We are not responsible. We were forced to take this decision. The BJP is going through a new phase. As long as there was no external interference in the Bihar alliance, it ran smoothly. Problems began whenever there was external interference," Nitish said without taking the name of Modi even once in the half-an-hour press conference but made several barbs aimed at him.
When asked whether he was referring to Modi, Nitish said "those who understand have understood, those who don't are naive". In an indirect reference to Modi's new appointment in BJP, Nitish said that there was no problem when the late Pramod Mahajan and Arun Jaitley were made campaign committee chiefs in the past.
Nitish, who is the Bihar Chief Minister, said there is a need to enlarge the umbrella of NDA by bringing in new allies if the alliance wanted to form the next government at the Centre. "You want to form the government, but don't be under the misconception. No single party is going to get the majority. It requires 272 MPs to make somebody the Prime Minister. For that the NDA has to get more allies. If people think there is some wave or a storm is blowing in their favour, they are under a misconception," he said in another dig at Modi.
Meanwhile, Yadav said the NDA was formed with Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani on the basis of some agreed agenda in 1995 but the party is not in agreement with BJP's "new phase". Yadav said the decision was taken "to honour the sentiment of party workers and leaders who were not in agreement with the brand of politics practised by the coalition partner in the past 7-8 months. We decided that now it is not possible to walk together and decided to chart a different path for the JD(U)."
The JD(U) passed a three-page resolution on political situation and circumstances pushing it to severe ties with BJP. It spoke of "rapid rise in the growing hegemonic control of a leadership" and "growing intolerance to any voice of dissent and moderation in its decision making process" in BJP.
The resolution said the Goa announcement of the Chairmanship of the electoral campaign committee of BJP "has filled all of us with deep apprehensions about the future. It has left not a shadow of doubt that this is a mere ceremonial prelude to his (Modi's) nomination as Prime Ministerial candidate. All efforts within BJP to suggest care and moderation in the process were smothered with the authoritarian cult and imperious disdain. Needless to say that these developments do not auger well for health of our secular and democratic polity," it said.
(With Additional Inputs From PTI)