An overt show of nationalism may be the BJP-led NDA’s calling card but one man in the alliance is not quite willing to wear patriotism on his sleeve. But then, Bihar chief minister and JD (U) leader Nitish Kumar has always played the game by his own rules. The story goes back few days when Nitish shared the dais with Narendra Modi for an election rally at Darbhanga. When Modi exhorted those present at the rally to chant ‘Vande Mataram’, all joined the chorus with clenched fists. But Nitish just sat through the spectacle, watching the sloganeering with an amused look. For his friends in the NDA, Nitish’s act, or the lack of it, was shocking. It also gave opposition parties a sharp weapon to attack the NDA and mock the “divide” between BJP and JD(U).
But knowing Nitish, was it all that surprising? Even though he has been an ally of the BJP for close to 19 years, Nitish has had a stand diametrically different from that of his ally on at least three contentious issues: abrogation of Article 370, implementation of an uniform civil code and construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya. Nitish’s erstwhile Samata Party, which later merged into the JD(U), had joined the NDA way back in 1996 but his party had always had its own stand on these issues.
The PM had invoked Vande Mataram to counter RJD candidate, Abdul Bari Siddiqui, who had earlier declined to sing the song. Observers believe that Nitish didn't want to antagonise his minority supporters, whom he has weaned away from the RJD. It is because of this reason that he had not allowed the BJP to invite the Gujarat CM Modi to campaign for the NDA candidates in Bihar between 2005 and 2013. He had even cancelled a dinner for senior BJP leaders at the last minute in June 2010 just because he did not want to be seen breaking bread with Modi. Three years later, he broke off with the BJP.
Nitish may have restored ties with his old ally, but the saffron party should not expect him to shout out Vande Mataram at its bidding. Singing a song with strong nationalistic fervour is in any case not part of their common minimum programme. Is it?