Kumar’s relationship with the BJP has been deteriorating over the past few months over a range of issues. The latest trigger was provided by RCP Singh, a long-time Kumar confidant-turned-foe, who was denied a Rajya Sabha re-nomination and resigned from the party. The BJP’s recent mega meeting of all its ‘Morchas’ in Patna and aggressive efforts to expand its footprint in Bihar has made the JD(U) distinctly uncomfortable.
There were reports that Kumar had sought time from Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and this led to hectic speculation that a break-up with the saffron party was on the cards. Kumar had also met with RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav a couple of times in the recent past and their bonhomie was widely noticed.
What JD(U) said
Party chief Rajiv Ranjan Singh ‘Lalan’ on Monday did not react to speculation that Kumar was planning to walk out of the NDA and said, “The chief minister has called the meeting of party lawmakers tomorrow to know their views about the situation that has emerged in the wake of the RCP episode.” Lalan had on Sunday called Kumar the “maalik” (lord) of the JD(U) while insisting that the Bihar CM took all his decisions after consultations with the rank and file.
An unnamed JD(U) leader was quoted as saying that the BJP leadership had activated the “Eknath Shinde plan” to sabotage the Kumar government but the CM spotted it in time and changed the entire game.
“This time, the Chirag Paswan model was activated through RCP Singh. The saffron party wanted RCP Singh to stay in the JD(U) and work like Eknath Shinde. Lalan Singh’s statement about the Chirag model was actually the Eknath Shinde model in Bihar. Everyone knows who was behind the conspiracy to remove Uddhav Thackeray in Maharashtra,” the party leader said.
RJD ready and waiting
The RJD said it was ready to “embrace” Kumar and his JD(U) if he broke ranks with the BJP. RJD national vice-president Shivanand Tiwary said convening meetings of legislators by both parties on Tuesday were a clear indication that the situation was extraordinary.
“Personally, I am not aware of the goings on. But we cannot ignore the fact that both parties, which together had sufficient numbers to muster a majority, have convened such meetings when an assembly session is not round the corner,” Tiwary said.
“If Nitish chooses to dump NDA, what choice do we have except to embrace him (‘gale lagaenge’). RJD is committed to fighting the BJP. If the chief minister decides to join this fight, we will have to take him along,” he added.
Asked whether the RJD would be willing to forget bitter episodes of the past, like Kumar’s return to the NDA in 2017, citing allegations of corruption against Lalu Prasad and his family members, Tiwary said, “In politics, we cannot remain prisoners of the past. We socialists had started off opposing the Congress which was then in power. But even the Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi was imposed invoking the Constitution. The BJP, which has now become a behemoth, seems out to destroy the Constitution. We have to respond to the challenges of the times.”
Congress waits and watches
Congress too has called a meeting of its legislature party on Monday and said it will “welcome” Kumar into the opposition camp if he chose to snap ties with BJP. AICC secretary Shakil Ahmed Khan, who is also a party MLA, said the meeting will be held at the residence of Congress legislature party leader Ajeet Sharma and is likely to be attended by the party’s in-charge of Bihar, Bhakt Charan Das.
“We always believe that parties with similar ideologies (saamaan vichardhara) should come together. If the CM’s JD(U), which believes in socialist ideology, quits BJP, we will definitely welcome it. But these are early days. We will discuss the unfolding situation at the meeting in the evening”, Khan said.
He also dismissed queries about any realignment hitting a roadblock on account of the Congress’ estrangement with RJD and the Left. “We wholeheartedly participated in Sunday’s ‘Pratirodh’ march here by the combined opposition,” he said.
Wary BJP stays silent
A senior BJP leader said his party has adhered to “coalition dharma” in its alliance with JD(U) and will continue to do so. “We will discharge our coalition dharma.” Senior BJP leaders have maintained a studied silence on the JD(U)’s accusation related to the fallout of RCP Singh with Kumar and also Chirag Paswan.
BJP sources said home minister Amit Shah, during his recent visit to Patna, had explicitly told its leaders that the alliance with the JD(U) will continue in the next Lok Sabha and the assembly polls, scheduled in 2024 and 2025 respectively.
After that the JD(U) should have no reasons to complain, another BJP leader said. “It is difficult to comprehend what Kumar is up to. We will wait and watch,” he added.
Former CM Jitan Ram Manjhi, whose Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) is an NDA ally, claimed there was no crisis in the ruling coalition. “In JD(U), it is Nitish Kumar who calls the shots. He has not said anything so far. I do not know what he is thinking, but had he planned any major move, he would have given me a hint. I will, however, try to talk to him,” Manjhi, whose son is a minister, and who had once agreed to merge his party with JD(U), said.
The Left parties said they would welcome any re-alignment of forces in Bihar that excludes the BJP. While the CPI-ML (Liberation), which is the largest Left party in Bihar with 12 MLAs, said it “will extend a helping hand” if JD(U) were to ditch the BJP, the CPM – the larger party nationally but with two legislators in the state – said “if a new alignment were to take place, it would be a positive development”.
CPI-ML (L) general secretary Dipankar Bhattacharyasaid the party at its Gaya conference had made it “clear that to save the state from the BJP, we will take whatever steps are needed”. Taking a more cautious stance, Nilotpal Basu, politburo member of the CPM, said, “If a new alignment were to take place, it would be a positive development… we would welcome if the influence of the BJP can be negated.”
Former Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) chief Chirag Paswanhit out at the JD(U) and dared it to take on the BJP directly instead of accusing him of involvement in a conspiracy to dent Kumar’s popularity. Paswan claimed the CM faced “greater danger from his close aides than from me” even as he alleged that Kumar has insulted RCP Singh, and had previously humiliated Sharad Yadav and George Fernandes.
“Never before has one heard of a party accusing its own former national president of corruption. But this is Nitish Kumar for you,” Paswan said.