RJD offers to support Nitish Kumar
- JDU MLAs start arriving at Nitish's residence in Patna for crucial meeting
- BJP top brass, including Amit Shah, reaches out to Nitish, according to media reports, quoting unnamed sources, in Patna
A fresh salvo by the Janata Dal United against ally BJP has set off ripples in Bihar, with all major political parties calling their MLAs to Patna and the Rashtriya Janata Dal expressing willingness to prop up Nitish Kumar if he dumps the NDA.
The simmering tensions between the state’s ruling partners bubbled over on Monday when JDU state chief Umesh Singh Kushwaha castigated BJP national president J.P. Nadda for a comment he had reportedly made during the recent two-day joint national executive of his party in Patna.
“Nadda said that all regional parties in the country would be finished and only the BJP would remain. If this is their plan, our survival is at stake and we’ll have to think about it,” Umesh told journalists.
Every major political party in Bihar has now asked its MLAs to be present in Patna for at least three days from Monday evening in case there’s a need for an important decision or a show of strength.
All the principal Opposition parties — the JDU, RJD, Congress and the Hindustani Awam Morcha Secular (HAMS) — have called a meeting of legislators on Tuesday.
“If Nitish quits the NDA, we will not leave him all by himself; we will support him,” RJD vice-president Shivanand Tiwari said to a reporter’s question.
Nitish is an old hand at switching sides, his serial somersaults earning him the moniker of “Paltu Ram” (turncoat).
Bihar Congress president Madan Mohan Jha said the party high command had asked all the MLAs to come to Patna by 6pm on Monday and stay put.
“We have been asked to take the opinion of the MLAs on the present political situation in the state, and on our possible course of action, and pass it on to the high command,” Madan said.
Sources said Nitish had had a phone conversation with Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Sunday evening.
All senior JDU leaders were tight-lipped, with Nitish refraining from inviting journalists to his janata durbar outreach programme, presumably to avoid tricky questions.
The BJP central leadership in Delhi remained tight-lipped and appeared to be strategising so that it could put all the blame on Nitish if he chose to walk out of the alliance.
“We have a lot to say but won’t say anything now. Our leadership has made it clear that the BJP wants to keep its alliance with the JDU, not only for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls but also the 2025 Bihar elections,” a BJP leader said. “If Nitishji has some other plans, he should tell us.”
Party insiders said the BJP leadership could hold a late night meeting to assess the developments in Bihar after home minister Amit Shah returned from Odisha, possibly late in the evening.
Sources in the BJP said the leadership had asked them not to make any aggressive statements against Nitish so that, in the perception game, the JDU chief minister took all the blame for breaking the alliance.
Besides, party managers said, they wanted to handle their ties with Nitish carefully, mindful of his OBC identity, so that no “wrong message” went out.
Some in the BJP, however, accused Nitish of brinkmanship to pressure the ally into accepting his demands, such as removal of Vijay Kumar Sinha as Assembly Speaker.
Bihar BJP sources said the party wanted to continue the alliance to prevent losses in the 2024 general election. The NDA won 39 of the Bihar’s 40 Lok Sabha seats in 2019.
Neither the BJP nor the Opposition Grand Alliance can form the government in Bihar without the JDU, unless one of the bigger parties splits or sworn enemies BJP and RJD join hands.
The RJD now has 79 seats in the 243-member Assembly, followed by the BJP (77), JDU (45), Congress (19), the Left (16), HAMS (4) and the AIMIM (1). There’s an Independent MLA while one seat is vacant.
Nitish parted ways with Lalu Prasad and joined the NDA during Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s days, before dumping the BJP in 2013 when Narendra Modi was declared the alliance’s prime ministerial candidate. He tied up with the RJD and the Congress to win the 2015 Assembly polls, and then returned to the NDA in July 2017.
Ties between the ruling partners had worsened since the 2020 elections that turned the JDU into the junior partner with fewer seats, with Nitish suspecting the BJP of using former ally LJP, led by Chirag Paswan, to slander him and cut into his votes.
The current rancour has its roots in 2021, when the BJP apparently outmanoeuvred Nitish into letting then JDU president R.C.P. Singh accept a Union cabinet post.
Nitish had in 2019 decided not to join the new Modi government at the Centre, miffed at being offered only one cabinet seat.
The tensions deepened when Nitish refused to re-nominate RCP for the Rajya Sabha last July, forcing him to resign from the Union ministry.
The latest showdown was triggered after JDU members alleged that RCP had bought 58 plots of land in nine years. RCP quit the JDU on Saturday following the allegation and castigated Nitish over his functioning as chief minister and his alleged dream of becoming Prime Minister.
The JDU, mindful of the role Chirag had played earlier, now suspects the BJP might be using RCP to split the party or poach on its vote bank.
JDU national president Rajiv Ranjan Singh aka Lalan Singh on Monday raked up the circumstances in which RCP had been inducted into the Union cabinet last year.
“R.C.P. Singh came and informed Nitishji that Amit Shah had said his name was on the list of those who would be made cabinet ministers. So, Nitishji said, ‘Go and become a minister’,” Lalan said.
“How can the BJP decide who will become a Union minister from the JDU?”
Lalan said his party had called a meeting of its legislators, including the MPs, to discuss the situation arising out of RCP’s resignation from the party.
The JDU and the BJP have differed constantly on issues such as the National Register of Citizens, uniform civil code, population control, namaz at public places, the wearing of the hijab at government educational institutions, loudspeakers at religious places, the Pegasus spyware scandal and a caste census.
Nitish has avoided attending programmes convened by the Centre for the past one month, the latest example being the Niti Aayog meeting chaired by Prime Minister Modi on Sunday.
Sources close to him said he was being driven by a desire “to challenge Narendra Modi and take a shot at the post of the Prime Minister in the 2024 general election”.
Additional reporting by J.P. Yadav from New Delhi