The CM will either force Tejashwi to resign, or tender a resignation himself to put pressure on the RJD. M I Khan reports from Patna.
The political crisis in Bihar on Saturday deepened with Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav, facing Central Bureau of Investigation charges, skipping a government function attended by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who swapped his chair with a Janata Dal-United minister after being seated next to an Rashtriya Janata Dal leader.
The organisers initially covered the nameplate of Tejashwi, the special guest at the function whose seat was next to the chief minister’s, but later removed it. The function was held to mark the World Youth Skills Day.
Kumar, who was seated next to Labour Resources Minister and RJD leader Vijay Prakash, subsequently swapped his chair with JD-U minister Rajiv Ranjan Singh, who was on his right.
This was seen as an attempt by the chief minister to maintain a distance with the RJD minister.
JD-U sources say that Kumar is likely to take a final decision on resignation of Tejashwi anytime after the presidential polls.
“Nitish Kumar has already decided and made up his mind what to do. He will announce his decision after two days whether he will want Tejashwi to resign or do something else to save the ruling alliance,” a senior JD-U leader in Patna said.
Sources in the JD-U camp said that with Lalu Prasad and his party being firm that Tejashwi will not resign, Kumar has no option but to take a decision sooner than later.
“Nitish Kumar will wait till presidential polls on July 17. After that he will announce a final decision over the ongoing crisis,” a source said.
Another JD-U MLA, considered close to Kumar, said the Bihar CM, cautious of his image, is in a dilemma as the RJD is declaring repeatedly that Tejashwi won’t resign.
JD-U leaders said Nitish Kumar’s USP is his clean image and zero tolerance against corruption.
“If Nitish Kumar decides to ignore BJP’s (Bharatiya Janata Party) demand of Tejashwi’s resignation, he will have to compromise with his clean image,” a source said.
According to the JD-U camp, Kumar will take a risk to be in power and will manage to lead the government.
If not, Kumar will either force Tejashwi to resign or he himself will tender a resignation to put pressure on the RJD to change its stand.
Meanwhile, the Saturday episode, which was captured in still as well as video cameras of the electronic media, gave an indication of how the acrimony between the two Grand Alliance partners was growing with every passing day in the wake of the CBI registering an FIR against Tejaswi and others in connection with a land-for hotels scam case.
The developments on the dais at the newly-built Gyan Bhawan in Patna came a day after RJD chief Lalu Prasad rejected the possibility of his son putting in his papers, a move seen as being dismissive of the JD-U putting pressure on the deputy chief minister to quit.
When the reporters bombarded the chief minister with questions on Tejashwi skipping the function, he only smiled and extended skill day greetings to the scribes.
Labour Minister Vijay Prakash, who is from the RJD, said, “I do not know why Tejashwiji did not come to the function.”
On Kumar ‘distancing’ himself from Prakash, minister Jai Kumar Singh of the JD-U claimed that the chief minister changed his seat to have a ‘better view’ of the television screen.
With both the JD-U and RJD hardening their stand, the rift within the alliance, in the wake of the CBI lodging an FIR against Tejashwi, Lalu, his wife Rabri Devi and five others, following raids in connection with the land-for-hotels case, has widened.
This has posed a question mark on the survival of the coalition, in which the Congress is the third party.
The RJD and the Congress have called a joint meeting of their MLAs on Sunday to discuss the July 17 presidential poll strategy, while the JD-U has convened a separate meeting of its MLAs at the chief minister's official residence.
Lalu, on his return from Ranchi late on Friday night after appearing in courts in connection with fodder scam cases, had categorically said that Tejashwi would not resign and claimed that the case against him was ‘politically motivated’.
On the JD-U seeking a point-by-point explanation to the public on the charges against the deputy chief minister and the CBI lodging an FIR subsequently, Lalu had said they would let the people know everything in detail at an RJD rally on August 27.
He had also said he would like to see the ruling coalition to grow from strength to strength.
JD-U deputy leader in the assembly Shyam Rajak, however said, “Everybody should maintain transparency in public life.... Otherwise, the people would show them the door.”
On Lalu ruling out Tejashwi’s resignation, Rajak, who was earlier in the RJD, said, “He (Lalu) is an elderly and experienced leader. I once again say that everybody in public life should maintain transparency.”
JD-U chief general secretary K C Tyagi said that Kumar, at a party meeting on Tuesday, had dwelt on the importance of morality in politics and stressed on ‘politics of principles’.
The chief minister had cited the examples of L K Advani and Sharad Yadav quitting, following charge sheets against them in the hawala case, to emphasise that in case of an FIR or a charge sheet, the accused must come clean, he added.
Tyagi, however, said Kumar had not fixed any time-frame for Tejashwi to come clean.
On Tuesday, senior JD-U leader Ramai Ram had said that a four-day time period, which expired on Saturday, was fixed for Tejashwi to give an explanation on the accusations.
RJD spokesman Manoj Jha alleged that the crisis in the alliance had been triggered by the media.
“After creating political turbulence, now a nameplate has been made a hero.... I give 100 out of 100 to the media,” he said on Tejashwi skipping the function.
JD-U leader Pavan Varma said in Kolkata that Tejashwi and the other RJD leaders should come out with a ‘substantive rejoinder’ for the sake of the coalition's image.
“They (RJD) must come out with a rebuttal as part of the coalition dharma, so that the mahagathbandhan’s (Grand Alliance) image in terms of public probity is not damaged,” he said.
Varma said, “An FIR has been registered. If Tejashwi or other members of Lalu Prasad's family believe they have been targeted and the charges against them are false or politically motivated, they need to place a factual and point-by-point rebuttal in the public realm."
The JD-U had on Friday asked the RJD to come clean on the allegations against Tejashwi with facts and not ‘display arrogance’ of having 80 MLAs in the Bihar assembly.
The JD-U has 71 MLAs and the Congress 27 while the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is the main opposition in the House, has 53.
A third option for Kumar is to dissolve the Bihar assembly and opt for mid-term polls.
There is little chance that Kumar will join hands with the BJP again, as he is keen to play a big role in 2019 Lok Sabha poll.
"If Nitish Kumar decides to go with the BJP, his chance to become prime ministerial candidate of opposition in 2019 will end automatically," JD-U leaders said.
It is a different matter that most of the state BJP leaders are hopeful that Kumar may join the National Democratic Alliance again.
Some BJP leaders have even announced that the BJP will support Kumar from outside if he dumps the RJD.
JD-U spokesperson Sanjay Singh said Lalu should read the writing on the wall.
However, all 71 JD-U legislators will attend a meeting on Sunday at Kumar’s official residence ahead of the presidential poll, but this meeting assumes more importance in the backdrop of the crisis.
With inputs from PTI
IMAGE: RJD Chief Lalu Prasad Yadav with senior leader and wife Rabri Devi and Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav at Legislative party meeting in Patna. Photograph: PTI photo