After JD (U)’s public spat and split from BJP, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s brand of politics got an open endorsement from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. But Singh’s enthusiasm was not being really shared by his own party, the Congress, which wanted to adopt a wait and watch strategy rather than rushing in to embrace Kumar. It, however, changed its mind later.
The point in question was the trust vote that Kumar will be seeking at a special session of Bihar Assembly on Wednesday in the aftermath of his party divorce from the BJP with whom he shared power. The trust vote became a necessity after Kumar sacked 11 BJP minister from his Cabinet and met Governor D Y Patil asking for a special session to prove his majority.
While earlier indications were that the grand old party might abstain from voting, the Congress at a late night meeting decided to vote in favour of Nitish. For, the party did not want to be seen favouring Nitish’s bete noire Narendra Modi, whose elevation in the BJP became the trigger for the divorce with the JD (U).
Earlier in the day, the Congress was cagey and did not want to reveal its card so early in the game for two reasons. One, it was not sure how the JD (U)-BJP split will play out at the ground level. According to the Congress leaders, it was still not clear in which way the voters will go, how they will respond. The Congress was cautious as it was not clear whether the acrimonious split enhanced Kumar’s image or depleted his basic vote-bank, a combination of the most backward and the upper caste, which brought him to power.
Whether the minority vote that Kumar wanted to attract by walking away from the BJP opposing the rise of Modi, would suffice or cover-up for what he would lose in terms of upper-caste Hindu votes and the floating voters of the intermediate castes, too was not clear.
Second, the Congress did not want to choose between Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad Yadav as yet. “That time has not come,’’ the senior Congress leader said. The latter has been with the Congress/UPA through thick and thin. However, like Lalu, the Congress was in a difficult spot as it could not be seen voting along with the BJP. Going by the numbers, Kumar had nothing much to worry about. That might be the reason why the Bihar Chief Minister decided to gamble on his government and was not exactly going around with a ‘single, ready to mingle’ tag, after his split with the BJP. The JD (U) might very well prefer to go it alone in the coming (parliamentary) elections, sources said.
In the 243-member House, JD (U) has 118 members and needs support of the four more. It could come from the CPI (1) and independents (6). The Congress has exactly four, but neither side would want the courtship period to end with an immediate marriage of convenience. The BJP has 91 and RJD 22, so after the vote, the former will claim the leader of opposition post from the latter.