Nitish Kumar and Narendra Modi are planning important political rallies to send out their very different messages on the same day — March 17. Kumar will step out of Patna for the first time since he became a chief minister and will hold a rally at Ramlila Maidan in Delhi, where he is expected to reiterate his demand for a special status for Bihar. Modi will continue to court the country’s youth and will address a large BJP youth rally at Somaiya Ground at Sion in central Mumbai.
Given the tension between the two leaders, these two almost simultaneous rallies will be watched very closely. Kumar has made it clear that he will not accept Modi as the NDA’s prime ministerial candidate. His party — the JD(U) — is trying to make the situation uncomfortable for the BJP, which believes that there is a ground swell of support for Modi. The Gujarat CM, who has made no bones about his prime ministerial ambitions, believes that he can win over young voters, especially those in urban centres.
Kumar had chosen March 17 earlier. He had warned that because the PM persisted with his stand of denying Bihar a special status, he will ensure that Ramlila Maidan is packed with Biharis. Together, they will renew their demand in a chorus. There are JD(U) leaders who said that the party has called upon all Biharis living in Delhi and outside to attend the rally.
Kumar had earlier held a massive Adhikaar Rally over his demand at the Gandhi Maidan in Patna on November 4 last year. He had then complained about Bihar’s historical backwardness and the unwillingness of a stepmotherly Union government to address those longstanding grievances. The demand for a special status has been pending with the Centre for a long time, but New Delhi has been echoing constitutional reasons for not being able to fulfil the demand.
At the end of 2012, Kumar raised the issue at the National Development Council and accused the inter-ministerial group set up by prime minister Manmohan Singh of not looking into the demand seriously. He had asked for the setting up of a group of experts to fix fresh parameters for granting special status to backward states like Bihar. He had argued forcefully that the gap between advanced and underdeveloped states needs to be bridged without delay.
Kumar’s rally will obviously be a show of strength and will carry immense political significance. If the BJP and the Congress together fail to reach a total tally of 275-280 seats in the coming general elections, he could emerge as a key player.
Already, he is trying to distance himself from a Modi-led BJP. His anti-Congressism does not carry that energy and vigour that it previously did. Depending on the numbers thrown up by the polls, Kumar could emerge as a consensus candidate supported by secular forces, including the Congress. That is why the strength of the Ramlila Ground rally, the quantum of crowd he is able to draw, will be keenly watched.
On the other hand, Modi had already shown at his recent Shriram College Of Commerce lecture in Delhi that he can really mesmerise the young and can elicit much respect from them. The party wants to use him in Mumbai to specifically target young urban voters. The BJP believes that the Congress has lost its grasp over the young electorate and it is a situation that has been left for the BJP to exploit.
Modi will again try out one of his effective and forceful development orations and will try to keep his young audience spellbound. Mumbai matters to the NDA because the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance is trying to get back its influence in the city.
It is virtually a face-off between the two leaders, who have grown apart in recent months. The rift between them is not easy to bridge. That is why it will be interesting to see who makes the bigger impact on March 17.