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BJP Wary of TDP, JD(U) Demands in Exchange of Support to Modi

BJP Wary of TDP, JD(U) Demands in Exchange of Support to Modi

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Manas Dasgupta

NEW DELHI, June 7: Even as the Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar and his party leaders are repeatedly underlining and over-emphasising his Janata Dal (United)’s unstinted support to the NDA to ensure the Prime Minister Narendra Modi take office for the third consecutive term, the BJP leadership are said to be wary of his past how at the drop of a hat he has changed sides to stay in power.

Mr Kumar along with the Telegu Desam Party (TDP) chief Chandrababu Naidu on Friday completed the formality of endorsing Mr Modi’s third term and addressing the NDA members reiterated that he would ever remain a loyal supporter of Mr Modi and went a step ahead to attack the INDIA bloc, the alliance he had formalised to create before jumping ship, of having done nothing for the country.

The Bihar Chief Minister, who earned the nickname “paltu kumar” for his frequent changing of sides, along with his party general secretary KC Tyagi kept repeatedly underlining the party’s support to Mr Modi as a response to critics expecting a sixth political U-turn in a decade. Nitish Kumar’s claim of support for Mr Modi was also an answer to speculation the INDIA bloc – which defied exit polls to slash the BJP’s advantage and win 232 seats – had reached out to him.

Earlier in the day when the NDA leaders started arriving at the central hall of the old parliament building for a parliamentary party meeting, Mr Kumar was spotted touching Mr Modi’s feet. Mr Kumar had left the NDA in 2014 in protest against the BJP naming Mr Modi as the prime ministerial candidate of the NDA bloc.

The JDU leader emerged as one of two kingmakers after the Lok Sabha election – 12 MPs from his JDU and 16 from Chandrababu Naidu’s TDP – will be key for Mr Modi’s party to form and run the government after it failed to cross the majority mark of 272 on its own; the BJP has only 240 seats. The rest of the NDA has only 25 seats – not enough to carry the BJP past the finishing line.

“…’Agli baar jab aap aaiye toh kuch log jo idhar udhar jeet gaya hai, agli baar sab haarega. Humko poora bharosa hai’…” Nitish Kumar said. “All the pending works of Bihar will be done. It is a very good thing that all of us have come together and we will all work together with you (PM Modi). You will be swearing in as the Prime Minister on Sunday, but I wanted you to do it today itself. Whenever you take the oath, we will be with you…We will all work together under your leadership,” he said.

Buzz of a sensational Nitish Kumar – INDIA bloc reunion surfaced Tuesday evening after it became clear the BJP would not win 272 seats on its own. Senior INDIA leaders, including ex-Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, suggested an olive branch might be extended to Nitish Kumar.

There were similar rumours about Chandrababu Naidu as the two made their way to Delhi for the NDA parliamentary meeting. Mr Naidu made his position clear, but Nitish Kumar remained coy. On Thursday sources close to Nitish Kumar ruled out the possibility of switching back to INDIA bloc but left a sting in the tail; with both sides locked in talks over ministerial berth allocation, the BJP brass was reportedly told to remember Nitish Kumar had walked out of the INDIA bloc over delays in naming him as its Convenor.

Recalling a January meeting of the INDIA group – when Nitish was still a member – and the events that followed, sources said an agreement to that effect had been reached. However, it was allowed to be deferred after Rahul Gandhi spoke up; the Wayanad (and now) Raebareli MP asked for the deferral since Trinamool boss Mamata Banerjee was absent from that meeting. The intervention was not well-received by the JDU; Nitish Kumar and two of his closest aides, Rajeev Ranjan alias Lallan Singh, and Sanjay Jha, who immediately switched off their video conference lines.

Nitish Kumar has maintained radio silence on this or any related topic, even after the JDU boss and his former ally, the RJD’s Tejashwi Yadav, set tongues wagging when photographed on the same Patna-Delhi flight, en route to NDA and INDIA meetings to review poll results and plot next moves.

But the BJP is wary of the kind of demands its two allies would make in exchange for support to the NDA. Sources have confirmed that the JD(U) has already informed the BJP of what it expects – at least two “respectable” cabinet and a junior Union Minister berth, as well as a common minimum programme. The Railways Minister post – held previously by Nitish Kumar – is among those the party has its eye on. The TDP is learnt to have demanded the post of the speaker of the Lok Sabha and some half-a-dozen cabinet berths including some key portfolios. Mr Tyagi’s repeated underlining that the “same INDIA bloc partners who refused its convenorship are now offering Mr Kumar PM’s post,” is being viewed as cautioning the BJP leadership of undermining Mr Nitish Kumar.

As the possible formula for Cabinet allocation within the NDA is being discussed, the BJP, for its part, is believed to understand that a greater degree of flexibility is required at this time, but it is unwilling to hand over key posts – such as the Lok Sabha Speaker’s Chair (demanded by Mr Naidu’s TDP) or critical ministries like Finance, Home, Defence, and External Affairs. In Modi 1.0 and 2.0 allies received relatively low-key portfolios, such as food processing and heavy industries. The party – which finished the 2024 election as the single-largest – will also not want to hand over portfolios key to its infrastructure push, such as road transport and highways, or its welfare agenda.

Sources have said the JDU may be offered Panchayati Raj and/or Rural Development, while the TDP may get Civil Aviation and Steel as in the first two NDA ministries. Junior roles in big ministries, like Finance, are also an option.

In the first two Modi governments the BJP – strengthened by not needing NDA partners to remain in power – enforced a strict limit on berth allocation – one post to each allied party – to NDA members. This, in fact, was why Nitish Kumar quit the NDA after the 2019 general election; back then he – infamous for his flip-flops – had ditched mahagathbandhan partner RJD and allied with the BJP.

This time around – given the BJP needs Nitish Kumar’s support – sources close to him said they expect the saffron party to meet the JDU’s demands without (too much) of a fuss. Should the BJP dither too much, the JDU is expected to remind it that “other doors are open”, which has been seen as a clear reference to a possible switchback to the INDIA bloc.



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