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Great snakes! Nitish tweet stirs storm

Patna, July 22: A tweet by Nitish Kumar - a Hindu couplet that compared himself to a sandal tree that does not become poisonous even though snakes are around it - has touched off a political storm at a time when his alliance with Lalu Prasad is going through a tenuous phase.

The timing of the tweet, two days after RJD chief Lalu reminded Nitish no less than seven times that he was the protector of his chair - led politicians to dub each other a snake while Nitish changed tack.

The tweet was in response to an interaction session Nitish had with one Sunil V. Chandak. Under a new initiative started by Nitish using the Twitter handle #AskNitish, people are free to ask him questions twice a week - Tuesday and Saturday.

Chandak had asked Nitish on Tuesday how he would ensure development by being with Lalu. Nitish replied saying Bihar's development was his sole agenda. So far so good. It was the Hindu couplet that followed - " Jo rahim uttam prakruti, ka kari sakt kusang. Chandan vish vyapat nahi, lipte rahat bhujang" - that unleashed the political storm.

RJD leaders were quick to react, but Nitish backtracked from the essence of the statement and claimed he was aiming at the BJP and not the RJD.

Senior RJD leader and former Union minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, hostile to the tie up with the JDU, advocated against such comments, saying they can hamper relations in a newly constituted grand alliance.

"Nitish should avoid such comments as it was not healthy for the grand alliance. He is surviving on our support, otherwise he would be finished. If we would have not supported him during the floor test, his government would have been in a minority. Just because of us, he is there. He should just tweet, not twist things," Raghuvansh told The Telegraph at his residence.

The senior RJD leader did not stop there. He replied through a couplet himself. "It is something like Apne munh mian mithu banna (self-praise). I condemn his comment and suggest him aisi vani boliye, man ka aapa khoye. auran ko sheetal kare, aaphu sheetal hoye (Speak in words so sweet that fill the hearts of others as well as oneself with joy to enjoy). He should better talk something constructive for the alliance," Raghuvansh said.

JDU sources said the snake comment was a "planned" one to build his image, but sensing the hurt it had caused to RJD leaders, Nitish did a U-turn.

Interestingly, Lalu had said he had gulped poison to align with Nitish when his name was announced as chief ministerial candidate of the alliance. Nitish today said Lalu had not called him poison. Lalu said Nitish was a better person to clarify the couplet and he had nothing to do with it.

Asked whom he had called a snake, Nitish said: "I have used it in the context of the BJP. Through the tweet, I meant to say that though I was with the BJP, I did not allow their communal ideology to take over me. I have been continuously saying that rule of law will prevail till I am there and there would not be any compromise on good governance."

Senior BJP leader and Leader of Opposition in the Bihar Assembly Nand Kishore Yadav took a dig at both Lalu and Nitish and said the alliance was on the verge of collapse as both have started hitting out at each other.

Jan Adhikar Party national convener and Madhepura MP Pappu Yadav attacked them saying: "The question was asked in the context of Lalu and Nitish says he replied in the context of BJP. This is an utter lie. Today, I believe, that Lalu's observation that Nitish has teeth in his stomach was right. Both are dangerous and poisonous snakes."

At a programme at SK Memorial Hall on Monday, Lalu Prasad had twisted the knife seven times into his friend-turned-foe-turned-uneasy friend. Like a combative Samurai, Lalu told Nitish, sitting on the dais beside him, that he owed his throne to him. The two allies, whose relationship is tenuous, met at a function to celebrate former chief minister SN Sinha's birth anniversary.

"In the last Lok Sabha elections, the RJD got 1.08 crore votes. How much votes did you get? I don't remember," Lalu had said in an indication to Nitish that the RJD had a much larger vote base than the JDU. The RJD on its own had polled about 72.25 lakh votes in the 2014 general election. The JDU, in contrast, had got about 56.63 lakh votes.

Lalu had promised to keep his speech short as "Nitish is a busy man", but he spoke for 45 minutes, training his guns in turn at the BJP and on Nitish.

"Since the results of the MLC elections have come out Nitish is worried. We have made him the CM, hum inko bithaya hai. But it is a promise for just one term and not two," Lalu guffawed. He didn't stop there. "We had differences," Lalu said, "But Nitish will remain CM, hum inko banaya." As Nitish looked on, Lalu went on. "When the BJP left him, he came to me. I made him CM. Humne inko bana diya, ye CM rahenge, koi confusion nahi hai," he had said.

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