The grand distrust in Bihar

The grand distrust in Bihar

Coalition theatrics: JD(U) chief's constant flip-flop has kept NDA, Opposition on tenterhooks

The grand distrust in Bihar
Barely 12 hours after Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the nation to announce demonetisation, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar was the first leader from the Opposition camp to back his one-time rival.

“I fully endorse the prime minister’s bold step to strengthen the economy. But at the same time, Modiji will have to hit at the benami property if he really intends to weed out corruption,” Nitish said on November 9.

By striking a discordant note (when the entire Opposition was baying for Modi’s blood), Nitish’s ties with other leaders, particularly his friend-turned-foe-turned-friend Lalu Prasad, has frozen since then.

A few months later, when BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi started tumbling out one document after another about the various land deals of Lalu and his family, and the numerous other benami properties held by Rabri Devi and her sons and daughters, it was crystal clear whom Nitish wanted to actually target.

The Income Tax (I-T) raids in June, followed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) raids in July and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) questioning Lalu’s kin only gave credence to the theory that though the BJP-led government at the Centre may appear to be targeting Lalu, the man behind Lalu’s woes was suspected to be Nitish himself.

No wonder, Sushil Modi profusely thanked Nitish the day the CBI raided Lalu-Rabri residence on July 7 after the premier investigating agency registered an FIR against Lalu, Rabri and Tejashwi Yadav (the deputy chief minister of Bihar) naming them as accused in the land-for-hotels scam.

“We would thank Nitishji for this raid. Had his men not raised the issue (the land scam) in 2008, and had his ministers not helped me in procuring the documents about various shady land deals, Lalu would not have been exposed to this extent,” said Sushil Modi, in his attempt to drive a wedge between the two ruling coalition partners.

It is believed that the gulf between Nitish and Lalu widened further since then with the chief minister, through his spokespersons, gunning for Tejashwi’s scalp. “Those who have been charged with amassing huge wealth and benami property will have to give a proper explanation. So far, their arguments may please the RJD supporters but legally it is neither tenable nor convincing,” said Nitish while addressing the legislature party meeting held at his official residence 1, Anne Marg.

At least two out of the 27 JD(U) leaders, who spoke on the occasion, struck a discordant note. At a closed-door meeting, Nitish’s close aide and senior minister Bijendra Yadav is believed to have told him: “When you joined hands with Lalu Prasad in 2015 to take on your arch-rival Narendra Modi, were you not aware that the RJD chief was already convicted in fodder scam?”

“We should first analyse our strengths and weaknesses before taking any decision (to snap ties),” argued Bijendra. He was, however, booed. Outside, the two alliance partners continued to trade charges. While the RJD insisted that “Tejashwi will not quit come what may”, the JD(U) took a high moral ground and reiterated that Nitish was known for his “zero tolerance towards corruption.”

Theories galore

In between, numerous theories were floated around. One was that Nitish may run the government with outside support from the BJP if Tejashwi was forced to quit and the RJD withdrew its support. The other was the RJD would not like to be seen as the one which wrecked the alliance, so it would extend outside support. Yet another theory was propagated by those who claimed to know Nitish well. “Nitish may prefer to dissolve the House than run his government with outside support of any party,” said a BJP legislator.

Days passed. Suspense increased. But not one shred of political upheaval took place as anticipated by a large chunk of electronic media and hundreds of other political pundits. On July 18, Tejashwi met Nitish in the chief minister's chamber after a Cabinet meeting and had a one-to-one where he is reported to have explained how he had been booked due to political vendetta.

Reports stated that Nitish was not fully convinced with Tejashwi’s arguments and cited how no tainted minister had ever continued in his Cabinet. With neither side willing to yield, the stalemate continues till date. And so is the frozen ties between the two ruling allies.

But those who are in the know of things argue how Nitish may not stretch the matter too far. A senior leader, who was earlier a minister in Nitish’s Cabinet, told DH that as of now there is a ceasefire. “Though it’s very tough to predict Nitish Kumar’s next move, at least till the CBI files a charge sheet against Tejashwi, nobody is likely to ask for the deputy chief minister's resignation,” the former minister argued.

While dwelling at length why Nitish may not desert the RJD and the Congress, the ex-minister said: “What will he gain if he joins the BJP-led NDA? He is already Bihar CM. And working with the BJP this time will be tough for him as it’s not the party of Vajpayee-Advani era any more. It’s quite possible that the team of Modi-Amit Shah may make things quite difficult for Nitish if he aligns with the BJP, given the history of bitter acrimony between Nitish and Modi. I guess, better sense has prevailed upon the Bihar CM, who may bide his time in the Grand Alliance and wait for the opportune moment for his dream (of emerging as Opposition’s prime ministerial candidate) to come true. And this could happen only if he does not cross the fence.”

Political observers feel that a weakened Lalu suits Nitish more. After the apex court ruling on holding trial in fodder scam, Lalu will remain engrossed with his legal battles. His two sons, both ministers, but charged with amassing wealth disproportionate to their known sources of income, will face the CBI, ED and the I-T sleuths in the days to come. This, in turn, will give Nitish ample leeway to run his government in his own inimitable style. After all, good governance has been his USP.

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