Patna, Feb. 24: The “split” in the RJD legislature party, though described as being “unethically” and “brutally” engineered, is set to give the much needed numerical strength to chief minister Nitish Kumar to enter the Lok Sabha battle without the worry of how to save his minority government on the floor of the House.
Poll forecasts have predicted major losses for the JD(U) in the coming general election with the BJP expected to get over half of the state’s 40 Lok Sabha seats. The opinion polls, sources said, have come as a challenge for the Nitish camp which is trying to project itself as the protector of Muslims by pointing out that the chief minister had split from his 17-year-old ally over Narendra Modi.
The party is now left with 115 MLAs, besides the Speaker, and is dependent on the support of the four MLAs of the Congress, who, of late, have turned inimical to Nitish, and the maverick Independents, who are always ready to demand their pound of flesh in exchange for their vote, to survive.
Sources pointed out that of the 13 MLAs whose signatures are said to be there in the petition submitted to the Speaker, five are Muslims. “Nitish realises that he needs to hold on to his Muslim votebank,” said a leader of the party, who did not wish to be named as he was not authorised to speak on the issue.
However, it is also true that of the six MLAs who were later seen by the side of the RJD’s leader in the Assembly, Abdul Bari Siddiqui, three were Muslims. “The picture is still hazy,” the JD(U) leader added. “Let’s see what happens tomorrow when all the 13 MLAs are expected to be in Patna.”
The dramatic developments have also turned the lens on Speaker Choudhary. Siddiqui was left fuming at the Speaker’s decision to issue the notification. “You can see six of our MLAs are with me expressing their shock on how their names were included in a separate group. Moreover, notifying the separate group of the RJD requires at least 15 of its 22 MLAs as per the anti-defection law. The Speaker has supported Nitish’s unethical venture to engineer the farcical split,” Siddiqui said.
Nitish and his mandarins appear to have taken a leaf out of Mulayam Singh Yadav’s book on the art of political survival in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh. In 2003, then chief minister Mulayam, aided by Speaker Kesrinath Tripathi of the BJP, had weaned away 40 MLAs from Mayawati’s BSP. Though Allahabad High Court took three years to declare Tripathi’s notification illegal, Mulayam’s purpose was served. His government survived and it eventually won the trust vote in 2006.
Political observers here find a similar advantage accruing to Nitish. Even if the RJD “parades” its MLAs claiming that their signatures were forged or moves court against the Speaker’s “high- handedness”, the Nitish government will continue to have the backing of the “separate group” created by the Speaker’s notification in the House.
The person who appears to have played a “key role” in the coup is JD(U) MP Lallan Singh. He was seen in the Speaker’s chamber on the last day of the budget session on Saturday confabulating with rebel leader Samrat Choudhary and a few RJD legislators.