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Manjhi opens alliance can of worms

Patna, Aug. 7: The fragile nature of the anti-BJP alliance has been brought to the surface by chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi’s statement yesterday that JDU’s Nitish Kumar would be the candidate for the state’s top political post were the coalition to win next year’s Assembly elections.

Manjhi’s statement, made in Dhanbad, has triggered rumblings in the JDU’s alliance partners, RJD and the Congress.

“Manjhi has touched a raw nerve. The question of who would be leader number 1 — Lalu or Nitish — remains unresolved. It is not a coincidence that despite reaching an agreement for the byelections, the two have not made a public appearance together so far,” said an RJD leader, who didn’t wish to be named.

So intense was the war of words between the allies that JDU national president Sharad Yadav had to issue a statement from New Delhi that the leader of the alliance would be picked after talks with the Congress and RJD.

“People do not understand the alliance and it is premature to talk about leadership. We still have to see how the alliance works at the grassroots. Our fight is with the BJP. The alliance should be issue-based and not personality driven,” RJD’s national spokesperson Manoj Jha said in an attempt to quash the controversy before the August 21 bypolls to 10 Assembly seats.

“The issue of leadership should be raised after the elections. However, Nitish Kumar is the leader of a large secular party in Bihar and if the JDU emerges the largest entity within the alliance, we would have no problem in extending support to him as Bihar’s next CM,” Jha said.

Manjhi though remained undeterred by criticism from his allies.

“Former CM Nitish Kumar is our leader. It was his greatness that he chose a man like me to succeed him. I repeat what I said in Jharkhand yesterday. If he (Nitish) wants to be CM, I will be his first proposer. If he wants to go to national politics, I want him to be the PM. What other parties say about the alliance is their view,” he told reporters today.

BJP leaders chuckled at what they see is another example of the inherent chinks in the alliance. “The JDU-RJD alliance is heading for a split even before they can fight the polls together,” quipped BJP MLA Rameshwar Chaurasia. Former MP Shivanand Tiwari, an old associate of both the chieftains, sought to point out the contradictions within the alliance and recalled that Nitish had accused the Congress of inciting the Bhagalpur communal riots of 1989 and also charged Lalu with sheltering communal forces. “The alliance between the three parties is without any principles. It’s opportunism,” said Tiwari.

Manjhi’s statement has caught even JDU leaders by surprise, especially given the fact that he has been trying hard to shun the image of a “remote-controlled” and “stopgap” chief minister. But, some JDU leaders fear, his statement promoting Nitish as the next chief minister will only help the BJP in projecting him as a “puppet on a string pulled by Nitish”.

RJD sources say that going by the Lok Sabha track record in which they emerged as a much stronger Opposition than the JDU, they would end up as the largest party in the alliance. In case of a victory, therefore, the post of chief minister ought to go to the RJD, argued these leaders.

“The reaction of those at the grassroots to the alliance is yet to be ascertained. Whether Yadavs — a major votebank of the RJD — vote for Nitish is still to be seen,” conceded an RJD leader.

The BJP has posed a question to the JDU. If the RJD does emerge as the largest party in the alliance, will Nitish accept Rabri Devi as his leader since Lalu is barred from contesting elections because of his fodder scam conviction? The JDU so far has ducked the question.