Patna: Sniping at each other is routine for the BJP and Nitish Kumar since they together formed the government in Bihar in 2017. But now, there is a very real and present danger of their partnership collapsing.
Nitish Kumar’s party, the Janata Dal (United), has accused the BJP of trying to undermine the Chief Minister’s hold over his party. There are reports that at a meeting tomorrow of its legislators, the JDU leadership will present MLAs who have reportedly been approached by the BJP to switch sides.
At a meeting today with Tarkishore Prasad, who is the deputy Chief Minister and from the BJP, Nitish Kumar reportedly said “there’s nothing serious” in the context of the headline-generating conflict.
But his party is going hard at the BJP, accusing it of working against Nitish Kumar in the general election last year, and of disrespecting allies. Nitish Kumar’s aides are citing, as proof, the recent comment by BJP boss JP Nadda, who said “Only the BJP will remain, regional parties will disappear.”
Sources close to the Chief Minister say he’s not in any mood to be placated; tomorrow, he will meet with all his MLAs or legislators to decide on what happens next.
An early reading has reportedly convinced him that MLAs are not willing to face mid-term elections and would prefer a new alliance over that prospect.
Tejashwi Yadav, the leader of the Rashtriya Janata Dal or RJD, will offer support to Nitish Kumar should he dump the BJP, the Opposition party said today. The RJD has recently become the single-largest party in Bihar. The combined strength of the RJD, the Chief Minister’s JDU, and the Congress, is large enough to form the government.
Nitish Kumar’s anger, say sources close to him, rests mainly in what he perceives as a concerted attempt by Union Minister Amit Shah to “remote control” Bihar. To register his protest, Nitish Kumar has skipped several key meetings called by Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Yesterday was the most recent of these boycotts – he did not attend the PM’s meeting with all Chief Ministers, claiming to be unwell, but was present at two government functions in Patna.
A starring role in this crisis is that of RCP Singh, who quit Nitish Kumar’s party on Saturday evening. He was a Rajya Sabha MP and a union minister, but Nitish Kumar came to see him as a proxy for Amit Shah, and on the weekend, RCP Singh was accused by his own party, the JDU, of rampant corruption. In preceding months, he was refused an extension of his Rajya Sabha seat, which meant he had to resign as a union minister.
Nitish Kumar has these key demands for the BJP: more union ministries (his party had been allocated one, which was given to RCP Singh) and that elections for Bihar be held along with the next general election in 2024 (instead of a year later).
In an attempt to make good, Amit Shah in a recent trip to Patna said that Nitish Kumar would be the face of their alliance in the next state election; rebuffing that gesture, yesterday, Lalan Singh of the JDU said any plans for the next election remain undecided.
The BJP and Nitish Kumar held a decades-long alliance till 2013 when the latter opted to team with the Congress and the RJD (led then by Lalu Yadav and now by Lalu’s son, Tejashwi). However, a huge disconnect between Lalu’s sons, who were ministers, and Nitish Kumar led to him ending the alliance after the young leaders were accused of corruption.
Nitish Kumar then rebraided his party with the BJP.
Nitish Kumar will deliberate on whether, in the next general election, he can take on PM Modi in Bihar at a time when the PM’s approval ratings are seen as immensely high. He also wants a larger say in determining who the BJP appoints as ministers in Bihar.