The timing of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s plans to visit Pakistan has raised some eyebrows in the state. He will be away in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad as the ongoing campaign for the Gujarat elections heats up.
The JD(U) is contesting the elections independently in Gujarat, as it had done in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections. The self-willed Nitish had humiliated its partner in the ruling alliance, the BJP, by campaigning against its candidates in Uttar Pradesh.
Nitish has made it clear that he won’t be available to campaign for JD(U) candidates in the ensuing Gujarat Assembly elections. He had canvassed for his party in 2007. He also cited pressing engagements like Adhikar Rally as an excuse to abscond.
If he campaigns in Gujarat, Nitish would be locking horns with his bête noire, the indomitable Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi who appears to be riding a popularity wave to come back to power for the third consecutive time.
After his vituperative attacks on Modi, and his refusal to allow him to campaign for the alliance in the 2009 Bihar elections, it would be highly embarrassing for Nitish to be humiliated by Modi when his party is unlikely to score a single seat in Gujarat.
Nitish also hopes to shore up his sagging fortunes with his minorities vote bank with the obvious solidarity move by visiting Pakistan between November 9 and 16.
The fallacy of this seems to have escaped Nitish, for it implies that the minorities would be happy with his Pak sojourn. He would be heading a high-level delegation of ministers and officials.
The tour is in response to the invitation he got from a Pakistani parliamentary delegation, led by senior PPP leader Jahangir Badr, which visited Bihar a couple of months back.
Foreign visits by chief ministers must have the mandatory approval of the PMO, Home and External Affairs ministries. Sources in Patna remark on the ease with which an Opposition chief minister has been given speedy clearance—in two months—to visit Pakistan.
Interestingly, Bihar’s Deputy CM and BJP stalwart Sushil Kumar Modi has not been invited to campaign in Gujarat. In Patna, he is seen more loyal to Nitish than to his own party.
He had even publicly termed Nitish a prime minister material. He even contradicted state BJP chief C P Thakur’s statement that Narendra Modi would be invited to the proposed Hunkar Rally to be organised on April 15, 2013 in Patna along with some other BJP Chief Ministers.
Surprisingly, the deputy chief minister—a product of the JP movement and most visible face of the party—preferred to play second to Nitish despite having an almost equal number of MLAs in the assembly even as Nitish tries his best to marginalise the BJP.
The Gujarat election is perceived to have a bearing on the saffron politics in Bihar. A vocal party MLA, Rameshwar Chaurasia, said, “I, along with more than 25 workers, would camp and campaign for party in different areas of Gujarat and many other senior leaders would also visit the state for mobilising voters particularly from Bihar.”
Bihar’s Animal Husbandry and Fisheries Resources Minister Giriraj Singh and BJP leaders like Ashwini Kumar Chaube and Nawada MP Bhola Singh would campaign in Gujarat after the Deepawali holidays. Ironically, the Gujarat elections may change the political game not just in the state, but also in the politics of Bihar.
The article was also published in The Sunday Standard