Monday, March 18, 2013

Smoke signals of Nitish and Modi from Delhi; Bihar CM for pro-poor policies, Gujarat CM for arms exports

New Delhi: Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar’s “Adhikaar” rally at Ram Lila Maidan here on Sunday was the manoeuvre of a seasoned politician. The ostensible object was to demand a special status for the state which would entail preferential treatment, some sort of affirmative action for the state as such, in terms of economic aid. It was clear however that the demand is only a means to declare his prime ministerial ambition as well. It was a show of strength of the JD (U) as well as that of the people of Bihar staying in the capital. When he declared at the rally that if Bihar was not given a special status now, then the people will vote for a party or coalition which will grant it, it was supposed to mean that Congress and UPA can depend on him if they will fulfil the demand. Or, it could also be interpreted to mean that the NDA, of which the JD (U) is an important member, is set to take over power and that he (Nitish) will get what he wants. It is an indirect hint that the people of Bihar mean to have a decisive say on the issue of who would be prime minister and that the BJP or Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi cannot take them – the JD (U) -- for granted. Nitish has also made a pitch for himself as prime minister when he declared that the man who is to lead the country – read, the prime minister – has to have sympathy for the depressed and oppressed and the poorer classes. This is an essentially left-of-centre pro-poor political agenda, which the socialist parties and the Congress and the communists have consistently pursued. Janata Dal (U) is only the latest mutation of the old socialist parties. It is strange that Nitish should be asking for special status for Bihar at a time when the state is making impressive progress on the economic front and the credit for this change has been credited to the JD (U) leader. Modi was in Delhi over the weekend as well. Speaking to a captive audience at the India Today Conclave, he set out a clear right-wing agenda when he said that India should become a manufacturer of armaments and become an exporter of arms. “India must sell arms and not buy them,” he said. Making fun of the UPA claim that they have created various rights – right to information, right to education and so on – he said what is needed was not legislation but action. “We do not need Acts. There is need for action,” he pronounced. During the interaction, when he was pressed to own moral responsibility for the 2002 communal riots, Modi refused to relent. He told Aroon Purie, chief of the India Today Group, to look up the record of what he had said about the riots and that he would not say anything more. There is then a healthy competition for the prime minister’s post from within the NDA, the main opposition formation. It has become evident that as there are claimants for the top post from within the BJP, there are also claimants from the NDA as well. This could be seen as something that will divide the opposition ranks and that this is good news for the beleaguered Congress-led UPA. Neither Nitish nor Modi have openly declared their candidacy but they have sent out smoke signals to indicate that they are in the prime minister’s race. While Modi can only hope to be a BJP-NDA choice, Nitish hopes to nudge his way either within the NDA or a non-NDA, non-UPA formation as well.

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