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Nitish, Lalu on sticky wicket; Mahagathbandhan at stake

Saturday, July 15, 2017
By Prakash Bal Joshi

The Mahagathbandhan in Bihar is a political experiment in consolidation of anti-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) votes which helped Nitish Kumar to stage a comeback despite realignment of political forces in the state. Now, within such a short time, the same political groupings appear to be under great stress due to change in perceptions.

The Mahagathbandhan is basically depending on the collaboration between two powerful leaders Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad Yadav who remained in opposite camps for long as both tried to emerge as main leading force in the state. Initial days saw bonhomie between two leaders as the Congress also threw its hat in the ring to complete the circle. Now with serious charges of corruption and continued raids on Lalu Prasad Yadav’s family members by Enforcement Directorate and Central Bureau of Investigation, the two leaders seem to falling apart over how to deal with the changed situation.

Lalu Prasad Yadav is upset over the way raids are being carried out against his sons and daughters by the central agencies calling it a political vendetta. He points out that Robert Vadra, Priyanka Gandhi, Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal, West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee and his family members are being harassed politically by use of central agencies.

Lalu, Nitish at loggerheads
However, there are many including Nitish Kumar who would like to maintain silence over the raids or distance themselves from Lalu. In the meantime, Lalu has planned a rally in August against BJP giving an appeal to all the opposition parties to join forces against the BJP. Interestingly, he referred to many opposition stalwarts who can join the anti-BJP front but skipped Nitish Kumar’s name indicating that all is not well between the two leaders. He is upset with Nitish Kumar who has maintained stoic silence over the so-called attack on Lalu by the central agencies. With the CBI raids, he has suggested that deputy chief minister and son of Lalu Prasad Yadav, Tejashwi Yadav should resign from the cabinet to maintain clean image of the government.

Nitish Kumar who is known for good governance “Sushasan Babu” and zero tolerance towards corruption found Lalu Prasad Yadav’s company affecting his fair image. This is one of the main consideration for him to adopt hard-line against continuation of Lalu’s son in the cabinet. Lalu has outright rejected the suggestion during interaction with Nitish Kumar creating a tension for the Mahagathbandhan.

The senior most BJP leader from Bihar Sushil Modi has been taking pot shots against Lalu Prasad Yadav and adding new information about Lalu Prasad family member’s scandal involving land deals. His observation that the political alliance in Bihar will not survive for a long and a political realignment will take place has raised many eye brows and expressed concern in the opposition camp.  

The BJP knows fully well that the Mahagathbandhan which foiled its strategies to win Bihar may put spokes in its wheel if it continues and consolidates further in the general elections scheduled in 2019. The party is watching developments within opposition camp with keen interest since any split in the Bihar alliance will prove beneficial at the time of elections.  

Lalu also knows well but he finds it difficult to handle Nitish Kumar who is taking moral position to enhance his chances of leading the opposition in the next general elections as there is a void. His balancing act has baffled the opposition as well as the BJP. Nitish Kumar who remained away from the process of selecting a candidate for the Presidential election since his suggestions were totally ignored by the Congress, has come out openly in support of opposition candidate for the vice president’s post Gopalkrishna Gandhi. At one stage, his name was being considered as opposition candidate for the presidential election. However, with the BJP declaring Ram Nath Kovind, Gopalkrishna Gandhi’s name trailed behind with the opposition also fielding former speaker of the Lok Sabha Meira Kumar. Nitish Kumar felt that the Congress was deliberately ignoring his suggestion to scuttle his emergence as a deciding factor in the opposition camp.

Lalu Prasad Yadav who is miffed with Nitish Kumar for asking resignation from his son has predicted a possibility of Akhilesh Yadav of Samajwadi Party and Mayawati of the Bahujan Samajwadi Party coming together to fight the BJP. If this happens then the arithmetic of 2019 general elections will change. Nitish Kumar is keeping every one guessing about his real intentions and action plan. He has supported the NDA candidate for the presidential elections but supports opposition candidate for the vice-presidential elections. He gives notice to the RJD to take action due to raids and also distance himself from Lalu’s rally against the BJP by saying that he would see if he gets an invitation.   

Despite taking tough stand against corruption by asking RJD to withdraw Lalu’s son from the cabinet, he has ruled out any breakup of the Mahagathbandhan. He has also made it clear that he is not in the race as a probable opposition candidate to lead the campaign as a Prime Ministerial candidate soothing Congress feather. However, his assertion that he is no Prime Ministerial candidate also makes it possible for him to adjust with the BJP in the next general elections by realigning. The Congress is also not very happy with the development as it will divide the secular votes and adversely impact the outcome of the general elections in 2019.  Congress president Sonia Gandhi as well as Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi both talked to Nitish Kumar and wanted to know about stability of the Bihar alliance since the Congress is part of the ruling alliance and has representation in the cabinet.

Evolving a compromise formula
The Congress is trying to ensure a patch-up between Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad Yadav by evolving a compromise formula.  Though he is assuring that the Mahagathbandhan is secure in Bihar, he has warned the RJD that if they want to continue with the alliance, they must secure resignation from Tejashwi since he is not going to compromise on the issue of corruption. This has put the RJD in a tight spot.  During CBI raid, it was alleged that during his tenure as a railway minister Lalu used his office to help his family including Tejashwi acquire three acres of prime land in Patna. The RJD has brushed aside the issue of raids saying that the charges were fabricated. However, this has not silenced the critics in the JD(U) who wants clear clarification and a resignation. In JD(U) meeting addressed by Nitish Kumar only one minister asked whether Nitish will go back to the BJP with which it parted company in 2013 after 17-year alliance.

Nitish Kumar’s first priority seems to maintain his reputation as an honest and effective administrator and at the same time ensure survival of his government. He seems to have worked out some formula to keep his government going even if RJD decides to walk out on the issue of Tejashwi resignation. The JD(U) may get outside support from the BJP like the BJP gets outside support from the NCP in Maharashtra whenever the Shiv Sena threatens to walk out of the saffron alliance. These are the perils of alliance politics.

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