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New Delhi: The meeting by Janata Dal (United) of its party’s MLAs and MPs on Tuesday, August 9, has fuelled intense speculation about the Nitish Kumar-led party reconsidering its alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Bihar. The relationship between the coalition partners has been souring for some time now over a host of issues.
While there have been numerous reasons for things between the alliance partners to come to such a pass, the immediate trigger can be traced back to political developments that emerged in the wake of the resignation of JD(U) former national president R.C.P. Singh from the party.
Former Union minister Singh, who is believed to be close to the BJP, resigned on Saturday, August 6, after a section within JD(U) questioned the IAS-turned politician on alleged irregularities in acquiring properties. Singh had to quit the Union cabinet earlier this year after his party refused him another term in the Rajya Sabha, sparking talk of a possible split within the party.
A day ahead of the key meeting, the JD (U) significantly said whatever decision is taken under the leadership of Nitish Kumar will be accepted by everyone in the organisation.
JD(U) spokesperson K.C. Tyagi said, “Nitish Kumar is the undisputed leader of the JD(U). He commands respect in the rank and file of the party. Therefore there is no question of any kind of split in the party. Whatever decision is taken by the party under Nitish Kumar’s leadership will be accepted by everyone.”
Amid talk of JD(U)’s possible split with the BJP, opposition parties, including once bitter rival Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), on Monday, August 7, said it was ready to “embrace” chief minister Nitish Kumar and his JD(U) if he broke ranks with the BJP. Alongside Congress and Left parties also pledged their support to JD(U) if such an eventuality were to arise.
Announcements that MLAs of both the JD(U) and RJD would be holding meetings on Tuesday, August 9, have only fed the political frenzy in the state.
Fraying of ties
Despite being alliance partners, the gap between JD(U) and BJP has been growing for some time now. The JD(U) has been nursing a grievance about the BJP ignoring its claim to three berths in the Union Council of Ministers. It also announced recently that it will not send any representative to the Union cabinet after the departure of R.C.P. Singh.
Kumar’s party is also believed to be annoyed, according to sources, by frequent comments from Bihar BJP leaders who question the governance being provided by Kumar despite being in the government in the state. Recently, BJP national president J.P. Nadda’s comments that “only the BJP will remain, other parties will disappear” are also seen as driving a wedge between the two parties.
More recently chief minister Kumar skipped the Niti Aayog meeting on Sunday, August 7, citing ill-health due to COVID-19. However, he took part in two other meetings in Patna on the same day.
The RCP Singh factor has also added to the host of knotty issues between alliance partners.
Speaking to reporters on Monday, August 8, JD (U) president Lalan Singh took exception to the claim that the BJP had decided who would be a minister from the JD(U) in the wake of RCP Singh finding a place in the Union cabinet.
“I read in the newspapers that R.C.P. Singh has said that he was told by Union home minister Amit Shah that his name had been approved for ministership. He claims to have taken oath after informing the CM. But this only confirms what we have been accusing RCP of.
Our charge is that RCP became a minister as per his own sweet will (apni marzi se). He has dropped the name of Shah. Does Shah belong to our party? Can the BJP decide which JD(U) leader will become a minister,” Lalan asked.
RCP Singh, who resigned from the party two days ago after being served a notice seeking an explanation on allegations of corruption levelled by some JD(U) members, was inducted into the Union cabinet last year.
Nitish Kumar, who had facilitated the former IAS officer’s meteoric rise in politics, did not take kindly to the vaulting ambitions of the protege and RCP received a snub from the party a few months ago when he was not considered for another term at the Rajya Sabha.
Accordingly, the Union steel minister resigned upon the expiry of his Rajya Sabha term but avoided venting his spleen against Kumar in particular and party leadership in general until the corruption allegations served as the proverbial last straw on the camel’s back.
BJP’s studied silence
With the JD(U) leadership taking aim at the BJP over a host of issues, a senior leader of the BJP claimed on Monday, August 8, that his party has adhered to “coalition dharma” in its alliance with the Bihar party and will continue to do so.
Senior BJP leaders in the state have maintained a studied silence on the ally’s accusation related to the fallout of R.C.P. Singh.
“We will discharge our coalition dharma,” the BJP leader said. “It is difficult to comprehend what Kumar is up to. We will wait and watch.”
BJP sources noted that Union 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.
Overtures to JD(U)
Principal opposition party RJD openly announced on Monday, August 8, that it will join hands with JD(U) in the event of Nitish Kumar walking out of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Other parties in the state, including Congress and Left parties, too extended support.
RJD national vice-president Shivanand Tiwary said there could possibly be a meeting of legislators of JD(U) and RJD too on Tuesday, August 9. “Convening meetings of legislators by both parties is a clear indication that the situation is extraordinary,” he said.
Continuing further, he said, “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 around the corner.
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 was also asked whether the RJD would be willing to forget bitter episodes of the past. Kumar had done a volte-face and returned to the NDA in 2017 leaving a coalition government with RJD and Congress which he led as chief minister, high and dry.
This happened after the wily leader, who had been a chief minister of a coalition government with the BJP for three terms, left the NDA in 2014 to join hands with Congress and RJD and form a new grand alliance government.
“In politics, we cannot remain prisoners of the past. We socialists had started off opposing the Congress which was then in power. 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,” Tiwary said.
Meanwhile, CPIML (Liberation) general secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya told PTI, “We will extend a helping hand if the JD(U) breaks up with BJP and a new government is set up. ”
He pointed out that 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,” he said.
Bhattacharya said the crux of the row between JD(U) and BJP stemmed from the recent statement by J P Nadda, president of the saffron party, who said probably regional parties have no future.
“Our belief is that the BJP will try and do a Maharashtra in Bihar and replace Nitish Kumar as chief minister before 2024 (if the NDA alliance in the state continues),” he said.
The CPIML(L) leader added his belief stemmed from the BJP’s history of breaking up and gobbling smaller or regional parties such as the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra and Vikasheel Insaan Party (VIP) in Bihar.
In March this year, all three MLAs of the VIP defected to the BJP, while a rebellion within Shiv Sena in June saw the government led by it fall to be replaced by a BJP-supported coalition led by Sena rebel Eknath Shinde.
The Mahagathbandhan’ (Grand Alliance) of which the Left parties, RJD and Congress are a part, had won 110 seats in the 2020 state elections with RJD securing 75 seats to be the largest party in the state. The BJP had bagged 74 seats out of the 125 seats won by the NDA, but with the defection of legislators from its ally VIP, the saffron party is now the single largest party in Bihar.
However, in case the JD(U) severs ties with BJP and takes the help of the Mahagathbandhan, it can easily form a government in the politically important state.
Meanwhile, AICC national secretary and MLA Shakil Ahmed Khan said whatever was happening in Bihar was “shubh sanket (a good sign)” as the BJP, which has a history of creating trouble for its allies, is getting a taste of its own medicine.
“We always believe that parties with similar ideologies (samaan 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 told PTI over the phone.
He, however, declined to comment on reports in a section of the media that Kumar spoke to senior Congress leader Sonia Gandhi over the phone Sunday night.
(With PTI inputs)