With Nitish on forefront, merger talks on backburner

With Nitish on forefront, merger talks on backburner

The much-hyped merger talks between the constituents of the erstwhile Janata Dal, which began amid wide enthusiasm last year, seem to be gradually heading to a dead-end. Reasons are one too many. But the prime cause of merger talks being put on the backburner is the sudden coronation of Nitish, who, in May last, had quit as Bihar Chief Minister and gone on a self-imposed exile.

Much water has flown down the Ganga in the last nine months when Nitish resigned in a huff and made his protégé Jitan Ram Manjhi his successor. That time, when his arch rival Narendra Modi romped home, Nitish and Lalu’s regional outfits were nearly decimated.
To counter their common foe, the two warring satraps from this part of the cow belt decided to bury their two-decade-old differences and take Modi head-on. The move bore partial success when in the bypolls for 10 Assembly seats in August 2014, the duo tasted electoral success.

Emboldened by the winning strategy, it was actually Lalu (his youngest daughter was then engaged to Mulayam’s kin), who mooted the idea that time had come for all the socialists to put their ego aside and merge their outfits so that the new party could check the rising graph of the BJP.

A tentative date of January 14, 2015 was fixed for merger as the day of Makar Sankranti is considered to by auspicious. The representatives of various constituents of Janata Parivar too reached Patna but the much-talked about merger never took place.
The anchor of the merger talks – Nitish – then in bewilderment after quitting as Bihar CM, suddenly fell ‘ill’ on January 14 and did not recover till all the leaders,
who were especially flown to Patna for grand merger, left Patna for their respective states.

“The Indian political history provides the clearest evidence that socialists can’t actually sink their differences and stay together for long, no matter how long they remain separated and get decimated. In this case too, the merger was not possible, with Lalu, Nitish and Mulayam each having their own inflated egos,” averred social scientist Ajay Kumar.

“The coronation of Nitish (after unceremoniously dumping Mahadalit-Manjhi) has not been appreciated by the RJD as well as the Congress precisely because the weaker and down-trodden sections of the society have been traditional supporters of RJD as well as the Congress. The DNA of the JD (U) and the RJD are diametrically opposite. So are the constituents of the two breakaway factions of erstwhile Janata Dal.

One can’t expect a weaker section electorate to vote for JD(U)’s Anant Singh (a muscleman-turned MLA from upper caste Bhumihar community). Nor can you expect a Kurmi (Nitish casteman) to vote for a Yadav nominee. On paper, the merger would have looked stronger as it unites the anti-BJP votes. But at the ground level, this was not going to sustain for long in caste-ridden Bihar. And as far as Mulayam is concerned, why should he be part of such a conglomeration in a State where he has no stake,” argued Kumar.

A ruling party legislator, who did not wish to be identified, agreed with the social scientist’s assertion and dwelt at length why the merger would be put on back burner till Nitish was at the helm. “Nitish’s chief characteristic is to play a dominant role. He has the advantage of giving good governance as his USP. Lalu, on the other hand, can’t play second fiddle to Nitish.

Shrewd politician

“A shrewd politician that Lalu is, he knows for sure that if he can’t contest elections for another six years (till his conviction in fodder scam is set aside by a higher court), it’s because of Nitish’s two close associates – Lallan Singh and PK Sahi. While the former was a petitioner in the fodder scam, the latter was the lawyer pleading the case in the High Court. Ironically, Nitish appointed these two leaders as cabinet ministers soon after donning the mantle of Bihar,” argued the legislator explaining why Lalu’s RJD has rejected the offer to join Nitish’s Cabinet.

“Lalu may not admit this publicly, but deep within he too realises that his attempt to further weaken Nitish has gone haywire. Besides, he (Lalu) too runs the risk of facing the wrath of Mahadalits the kind of treatment Nitish has given to Manjhi,” he added.

“Lalu and Rabri’s absence from Nitish’s swearing-in function can’t be dismissed as a normal affair. If Akhilesh Yadav can come all the way to attend the oath function, why can’t someone from Lalu’s family do so?” wondered senior BJP leader and former Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi. He added that there was huge resentment among the RJD workers over Lalu joining hands with Nitish. “The RJD workers are now saying ‘vote hamara, raj tumhara’ (we have the votes, and you run the government),” Modi said, quoting RJD leaders.

With internecine war among the erstwhile Janata Dal constituents showing no sign of abatement, Nitish’s focus will obviously shift from governance to managing the inherent contradictions in the fledgling alliance of JD (U), RJD and Congress. Besides, Nitish has opened a hostile front towards the Centre by alleging that despite Modi government’s claim that it had raised the state’s share by 10 per cent under the 14th Finance Commission recommendations, Bihar will actually lose around Rs 15,000 crore in 2015-16 in view of the curtailed Centrally-sponsored schemes and slashed BRGF (Backward Region Grant Fund).

With an unfriendly Centre, not-so-trust worthy alliance partners and rebels within his own JD (U), the road to Nitish’s success is unlikely to be smooth this time.

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