Nitish Kumar inches closer to exiting Bihar alliance; BJP ready | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Nitish Kumar inches closer to exiting Bihar alliance; BJP ready

By, , New Delhi/patna
Jan 27, 2024 05:30 AM IST

If Nitish Kumar makes the switch, as rumoured, it will be the fourth such move in the past decade and the second this term

Bihar’s ruling coalition appeared at breaking point on Friday with the Janata Dal (United), its ally Rashtriya Janata Dal, and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party all corralling their lawmakers and calling meetings over the weekend as speculation about chief minister Nitish Kumar’s joining the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) reached fever pitch.

Bihar CM Nitish Kumar and deputy CM Tejashwi Yadav during a Republic Day event at Gandhi Maidan in Patna. (Santosh Kumar/HT Photo)
Bihar CM Nitish Kumar and deputy CM Tejashwi Yadav during a Republic Day event at Gandhi Maidan in Patna. (Santosh Kumar/HT Photo)

If Kumar makes the switch, as rumoured, it will be the fourth such move in the past decade and the second this term.

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Signs of plummeting ties in the ruling alliance were apparent after deputy CM Tejashwi Yadav skipped the Republic Day celebrations at Raj Bhavan, where Kumar was present. The two didn’t exchange a word in the parade held in Patna soon after. “Ask those who were not present why they skipped the function,” said Kumar to reporters. At Raj Bhavan, the CM was seen chatting with the leader of the Opposition Vijay Kumar Sinha, and JD(U) minister Ashok Choudhary was sitting on the chair allotted for the deputy CM.

The RJD has called a meeting of its legislators on Saturday, while the JD(U) scheduled its meeting on Sunday even as the BJP indicated it was open to joining hands with its friend-turned-foe-turned-friend-turned-foe.

“We are keeping an eye on all the developments and if needed an appropriate decision will be taken. No door is permanently closed in politics and the door can be opened if needed,” said BJP’s Rajya Sabha MP and former deputy CM Sushil Modi.

If Kumar goes with the BJP, he is likely to remain CM till at least the Lok Sabha polls later this year, people aware of developments said. But disagreement is rife over who’d become his deputy — Kumar favours Sushil Modi, with whom he worked for a decade in the past, but the BJP might want to go with another face. “They may prefer someone from an extremely backward caste, or dominant OBC group such as Yadav or Kushwaha,” said a person aware of the negotiations.

Hectic parleys were on in Delhi and Patna throughout the day as the BJP rushed key leaders to the state after a late-night meeting chaired by Union home minister Amit Shah. Sushil Modi flew to Patna on Friday and the state’s central in-charge Vinod Tawde is scheduled to hold a key meeting in Patna on Saturday.

“The home minister’s direction to us is very clear,” said a BJP leader in Patna, on condition of anonymity. “We have to speak to everyone so that we are ready for all eventuality. We are waiting for Nitish Kumar to take the final call and resign. Everything will become clearer tomorrow.”

In Patna, the leading constituents of the six-party ruling coalition exchanged barbs.

“There is a lot of confusion which is not in the interest of the people of the state. Only the CM can put an end to the confusion,” said RJD MP Manoj Jha. JD(U) chief spokesperson Neeraj Kumar shot back. “Kumar plays politics from the front. He has no confusion.”

The timing of these moves is crucial.

On Monday, Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra enters Bihar and the Congress had planned a show of strength with all members of the ruling alliance. But the people quoted above said that Kumar lost interest when it became clear that he would not be the face of the 28-party Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA).

Now the Congress fears that just as Milind Deora joined the Eknath Shinde faction of the Shiv Sena on the day the Yatra started from Manipur earlier this month, the government in Bihar could collapse the day Gandhi enters the state, the people quoted above added.

“A big political game is in the offing,” said NDA member and former CM Jitan Ram Manjhi.

The JD(U) has 45 members in the 243-member Bihar assembly while the NDA has 82. A party or a grouping needs 122 lawmakers to form the government. The RJD, Congress, and Left parties have 114 lawmakers. The RJD is the single-largest party with 79 lawmakers.

In 2005, Kumar formed his first government in alliance with the BJP. He snapped ties in 2013, fought the 2014 Lok Sabha polls alone and the 2015 assembly elections in alliance with the RJD. He returned to the NDA in 2017. The JD(U) contested the 2019 national polls and 2020 Bihar elections as part of the BJP-led grouping. In 2022, Kumar quit the NDA to form the government again with the RJD, Congress, and Left parties.

A key reason for Kumar’s possible unhappiness could be the evolving dynamics in the INDIA bloc. At a meeting of the alliance on December 19, 2023, West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee did not support Kumar as the convener when the Congress broached the subject, while there was unanimity on making Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge the chairman of the bloc. The question of convener was kept in abeyance and RJD chief Lalu Prasad and his son Tejashwi Yadav were asked to keep Kumar happy, said people aware of developments.

This became difficult for two reasons, according to party insiders. First, Kumar realised that Kharge was finding greater acceptability as a Dalit leader for a larger role. Without the prospect of a pan-India role, there wasn’t much motivation for Kumar. This was reflected in JD(U) spokesperson KC Tyagi’s recent statements expressing dissatisfaction with the pace of coordination within the alliance.

The second problem was that despite being CM, some powerful areas were under the control of the RJD, said the party leaders quoted above.

“For 19 years, Nitish Kumar has held the reins of Bihar government. But he suddenly realised that the power equation had shifted towards Tejashwi-Lalu,” said a Congress leader in Patna. It is also believed that JD(U) leader Lallan Singh, who recently gave up the party chief’s post at the insistence of Kumar who took it on himself, was becoming too close to Lalu Prasad, and that Kumar was upset at what he saw as an effort by the RJD to make inroads into the JD(U).

“We have no idea what’s happening over there,’’ said Rajya Sabha RJD member Misa Bharti Yadav.

In the NDA, the mood was mixed. “It’s true that where Nitish is now, he is very stressed. Almost feeling suffocated,” said NDA partner Upendra Kushwaha, but voiced questions about Kumar’s reliability. “If he comes in alliance with the BJP, it’s unsure if he will stay with them after the polls.”

The people quoted above said the possibility of the BJP- JD(U) realignment could become clear over the weekend after the parties meet their lawmakers.

For now, everyone in Bihar is anxious, and waiting.

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