As the apex court on Monday takes up the hearing of two petitions related to the cancellation of the bail granted to convicted RJD leader Md Shahabuddin, one question hotly debated inside and outside Bihar is: Will Lalu Prasad rock Nitish’s boat?
A sense of discomfiture is quite palpable within the Grand Alliance (GA) ruling Bihar since November 2015, when it stormed to power with a brute majority of 178 seats in the 243-member House.
While there have been skirmishes between the RJD (which has more seats at 80, compared to JD-U’s 71 and Congress’ 27) and the JD (U) quite often in the last 10 months, the latest Shahabuddin row poses a fresh threat to the unity of GA, as the convicted leader has unabashedly questioned Nitish’s leadership.
Soon after being released from jail on September 10, after remaining behind bars for 11 years, Shahabuddin remarked that Nitish became chief minister ‘by circumstances’ and compared him with Madhu Koda (the ex-Jharkhand CM, who never had any mass base).
The convicted ex-MP from Siwan had no inhibitions in admitting that Lalu was his leader and that “his relationships with Nitish were neither good nor would they improve in the days to come.”
This acrimony was the beginning of strained ties between the two ruling partners RJD and the JD (U). As the BJP-led Opposition questioned the Nitish regime on how a person, who has been sentenced to life-term in two different murder cases, be enlarged on bail, the Bihar government on Friday swiftly moved Supreme Court appealing the apex court to cancel Shahabuddin’s bail.
Eyes on RJD chief
As the SC bench agreed to take up the plea on Monday, all eyes will now be on RJD chief whose soft corner for his protégé Shahabuddin remains undiminished. Lalu may suffer a setback if his Man Friday’s release is reversed.
However, sources in the Grand Alliance argue that this episode (Shahabuddin-Nitish spat) will neither spoil the Lalu-Nitish friendship nor rock the Grand Alliance’s boat, for four different reasons. First, Lalu would not like his sons’ fledgling career to become a casualty if this government falls. Since Lalu himself can’t contest a poll following his conviction in the fodder scam, he would ill-afford to jeopardise the political career of his two sons, one of whom is the deputy chief minister.
Secondly, given the mass base Lalu enjoys among Muslims, it’s next to impossible that he would align with the BJP which has 51 members in the Assembly.
Thirdly, Nitish has so badly strained his relationship with the BJP in general and Narendra Modi in particular that he would, under no circumstances, align again with the saffron party to retain his chair.