Nitish Kumars clear indication on the NDAs prime ministerial candidate ahead of next years Lok Sabha elections may have put the BJP in a tight spot in Delhi but his JD(U) workers and supporters on the ground in Bihar seem visibly reluctant to break ranks with their alliance partner in the state.
And that poses a dilemma for the JD(U) leadership.
This week,The Indian Express visited eight Lok Sabha constituencies in Bihar Muzaffarpur,Nalanda,Munger,Sitamarhi,Sheohar,Darbhanga,Madhubani and Nawada shared equally between the two parties,to get a sense of how the tensions between the two parties at the national level are playing out on the electoral battlefield.
In general,BJP workers in these constituencies were less keen to save the alliance with the JD(U) at the expense of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modis claim to be projected as the NDAs prime ministerial candidate.
JD(U) supporters,however,appeared eager to stick together even as they asserted that their core support base of extremely backward classes (EBCs) and Mahadalits would remain intact,come what may.
While public sentiment seemed to acknowledge the rising popularity of Modi,it was also clearly opposed to the BJP and the JD(U) going their separate ways as people seemed to fear it would give a window of opportunity to Lalu Prasads RJD.
Both will suffer losses, was the common refrain when people were asked about the BJP and JD(U) breaking their alliance over Modi.
There is no alternative to Nitish Kumar in Bihar. The end of the alliance will give an unnecessary opening to RJDs Lalu Prasad,whom we cannot trust,and even the Congress that does not exist in Bihar, said Rajkumar Mahto of Gyodhapar,a village in the Harnaut assembly segment of Nalanda.
The fear of Lalu returning in the event of the BJP and JD(U) breaking up weighs heavily on the minds of supporters of both parties. The JD(U) is also apprehensive about whether its anti-Modi plank would be good enough to woo more Muslims to make up for the loss of upper-caste voters traditionally associated with the BJP.
There is a sense of fear of sailing alone because we are not sure whether the anti-Modi plank alone can bring us enough minority support to compensate for the loss of upper-caste support. Minorities still have a natural affinity for RJD and Congress when it comes to national elections. We do not have that comfort as yet, said a JD(U) district president who did not want to be identified for fear of being hauled up for his remarks at the partys national conference in Delhi over the weekend.
Another JD(U) chief hinted at similar sentiments when he advocated that if the JD(U) called off its alliance with the BJP,it should ally with the Congress to send a clear signal to Muslims ahead of the Lok Sabha polls.
Nitish has solid credentials to attract more Muslim supporters because he has pursued pro-minority policies despite being in alliance with the BJP and the BJP has been kept at bay on issues and initiatives concerning Muslims during the last seven years, said Shabbeer Ahmed,JD(U) town president for Muzaffarpur.
This sentiment is echoed in several villages with a substantial Muslim population.
Lalu has been the first choice of Muslims,but if Nitish and Congress join hands it will become more than a 50:50 split in Muslim votes in favour of Nitish, speculates Mohammed Vakil of Parsauni village which has a large Muslim population and is located on the road between Sheohar and Sitamarhi.
Other Muslims acknowledge that Nitishs tenure has not been bad for the community but they maintain that he will have to take one major step forward to make Muslims natural allies of the JD(U) over RJD.
If Nitish wishes to woo us,he will have to break the alliance with the BJP well in time to ensure a bitter and open war of words and demonstrate his anti-Modi credentials,and also have enough time to spread the word in the community about his action and mobilise them, said Imtiaz of Sakari,a large village on the boundary of Madhubani and Darbhanga constituencies.
Imtiaz also questioned the low political representation given to Muslim leaders by Nitish compared to that of Lalu.
But talking about the core support bases of the BJP and the JD(U),there were competing claims among party workers with one section believing that Nitishs good governance would wean upper-caste voters to the JD(U) while another section fearing that Modis charisma could push EBC voters towards the BJP.
We have moved much ahead of Mandal-kamandal politics and do not want to bring back emotional issues. Our workers are not getting provoked and want the alliance to continue, said Nalanda JD(U) president Siyasharan Thakur.
But the thinking within the BJP on the ground is that Modi is the natural option for the BJP to project as PM. If our alliance with the JD(U) breaks in the name of Narendra Modi,so be it, said Manoj Kumar,the BJPs district president of Sitamarhi which is represented by the JD(U) in the Lok Sabha.
Similar sentiments were expressed by a majority of the BJPs district presidents,indicating the partys reluctance to save the alliance at the expense of Modis claim for the top job.