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Nitish battles enemies within

- Once close aides now sharpen knives against former CM

Patna, June 9: Like Julius Caesar, Nitish Kumar is counting the Brutus’s in his midst.

As the rebels in the party mounted their offensive, fielding three candidates to take on the JDU’s Pawan Varma and Ghulam Rasool Baliabi, conspiracy theories began doing the rounds which focused on the possible role played by a senior party leader who lost the Lok Sabha elections.

On the Legislative Council premises, Nitish sat in his new office today with state JDU chief Bashishtha Narayan Singh and minister Vijay Kumar Choudhary.

Nitish visited the chief minister’s chamber in the Assembly only when his successor Jitan Ram Manjhi led the party candidates to the secretary of the Assembly, Hareram Mukhiya — the returning officer of the Rajya Sabha bypolls, around 1.30pm along with other ministers. The ritual lasted just 15 minutes and Nitish left without speaking to the media.

A little over 40 minutes later, the rebels marched in. Had Nitish stayed on, he would have been shocked to see the likes of Gajanand Shahi alias Munna Shahi and Dawood Ali — his closest aide till yesterday — signing as proposers for rebel candidate Sabir Ali, who is taking on Baliabi.

Varma, a former IFS officer, is being challenged by two nominees: the rebel-sponsored Anil Sharma and Dilip Jaiswal, being backed by several BJP members though he is contesting as an Independent. Sharma, an entrepreneur, had, even until Saturday, been heaping praise on Nitish.

“Nitishji is my role model. Influenced by his (Nitish’s) integrity and sacrifice, I have joined politics. I will keep on serving the JDU selflessly,” Sharma had told reporters.

Sharma is now openly involved in the battle to split the party that Nitish has effectively bossed over with an iron hand for the last 20 years. JDU strategists see the hand of a senior leader in the party in fanning the fire.

“The leader didn’t want Nitish to break the alliance with BJP. Gradually he lost his clout in the NDA and also lost his Lok Sabha seat. He became totally dependent on the mercy of Nitish, which he did not like,” said a JDU leader under cover of anonymity.

The JDU sources smelt a “conspiracy” hatched by the BJP. Grapevine has it that the unprecedented debacle of the JDU gave the BJP the ammunition to try and work on the disgruntled leaders to get back at Nitish. The debacle weakened Nitish, and the ranks of the dissidents also swelled because several MLAs lost faith in the former chief minister’s capability to ensure their comeback in the next Assembly elections due in late 2015.

The BJP stayed “active” in the entire game but tacitly and strategically.

Many of the JDU MLAs The Telegraph spoke to said they were “in touch” with the BJP leaders, away from the glare of Nitish. Sources said the rebel leader, Gyanendra Singh Gyanu, was constantly in touch with a “very senior” leader of the BJP. He was reported to have even met a highly positioned BJP leader in the Narendra Modi-led ministry.

He said they had not opposed JDU national president Sharad Yadav. “We are going to defeat the other two JDU candidates,” he said, but remained evasive on whether the BJP would extend its support to the candidates.

The “frustrations” of a section of the JDU brass often resonated in the party. Sharad, whom the rebels have spared, too has aired his grievance.

“I promoted both Lalu and Nitish. But I am sad to say that both have indulged in caste politics,” Sharad had said at a Muzaffarpur rally in the middle of the Lok Sabha elections last month. He had later described the statement as a “foot in the mouth” one. But the veteran leader’s utterances signalled his frustration, which has become evident in the manner in which the JDU has unravelled.

Now, the gameplan of the rebels would be to defeat the JDU’s official nominees.

Sources said that either Anil Sharma or Dilip Jaiswal might withdraw in favour of one of the unofficial nominees to firm up the strategy of Nitish’s detractors to ensure the victory of the rebels over the official ones.

The rebel group’s candidates are almost sure of the 84 BJP MLAs and also a fair number of dissidents voting for them.