Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar provided an unexpected kick to the BJP's morning by making it clear that Narendra Modi is not acceptable as a prime ministerial candidate. In the evening, he doubled the shot by describing his statement as "golden words" that could not be repeated.
If Mr Kumar appears to be enjoying the pain he's putting the BJP in, it's partly because the party has chosen, so far, not to stand up for Mr Modi. The deputy chief minister of Bihar, Sushil Modi, followed a recent pattern, in fact, of agreeing with Mr Kumar and indirectly endorsing his stand against the Gujarat chief minister.
Mr Kumar partners with the BJP in Bihar, and is a member of the BJP-led national coalition, the NDA. This morning's edition of The Economic Times has him taking on the Gujarat chief minister on multiple fronts. He said the NDA should pick as its candidate for Prime Minister a leader who understands the needs of under-developed places like Bihar. He stressed that it's essential that the candidate have secular credentials.
He also said that it's imperative that the BJP select its prime ministerial candidate before the general elections, and ruled himself out. "I am not in the race for PM. I cannot even dream of that high office. The prime minister should be from the bigger party. We can only play a supporting role," he said. (Read the article here)
His deputy chief minister, Sushil Modi who is from the BJP, hastily agreed. "The PM should be like Atal Behari Vajpayee," he said, "someone who is acceptable to everyone."
Mr Modi's prime ministerial ambitions were boosted at a recent meeting of the BJP in Mumbai, where the party gave in to his demand to sack rival Sanjay Joshi, in order to ensure Mr Modi would attend the session. He did, and stole the show. A few days ago, at a rally, he targeted politicians in Bihar for indulging in caste politics, which had contributed to the backwardness of Bihar. Mr Kumar retorted that he did not need sermons. The two men have an uneasy equation despite being senior leaders in their coalition. Mr Kumar has refused to let Mr Modi campaign in Bihar in the last general and state elections. He was concerned that Mr Modi, tainted by communal riots in his home state in 2002, would dent his image as a secular leader favoured by Bihar's Muslim voters.
When asked if Bihar remains off-limits to Mr Modi, he said to The Economic Times that the state unit of the BJP has capable leaders who can campaign locally. He also said that he has a cordial relationship with the Bihar unit of the BJP, but "if someone is bent on spoiling this relationship, I cannot help it."
Mr Kumar is also opposed to the BJP's attempts to put up a candidate for President of India against Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee. The BJP was hoping that former President APJ Abdul Kalam would run for a second term. He declined yesterday. The party is now considering backing former Speaker PA Sangma. Mr Kumar has stressed that the President should be elected by consensus, and has praised Mr Mukherjee.