JD-U leaders believe Prashant Kishor's entry would benefit its case for contesting a larger number of seats in Bihar in next year's general election.
Satyavrat Mishra reports.
It was in early 2015 that Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar asked political strategist Prashant Kishor to manage his re-election bid in the assembly election later that year.
As Kishor set up camp at Kumar’s residence in Patna, it is said that the chief minister sent his tailor to stitch a few white kurta-pyjamas for his poll manager.
Kishor objected to it -- as he was not a politician, he didn't need the whites. Kumar, however, insisted.
"Oh! But you are. You would need them," Kumar reportedly told him with a smile.
Three years later, Kumar, also national president of the Janata Dal-United, inducted Kishor into the party on September 16.
The Bihar chief minister welcomed Kishor into the party by presenting him an angavastram. He was given a seat next to Kumar at the state executive meet.
The whole process indicated the position Kishor enjoys in the party and within Kumar’s inner circle.
A few days later, he was assigned to negotiate a seat-sharing formula between the JD-U and the Bharatiya Janata Party in Bihar for the 2019 general election.
Political analysts think that Kishor's induction would have both positive and negative impacts on the JD(U)-BJP relations in Bihar.
Several JD-U leaders believe his arrival would benefit the party in 2019, but some think that it would raise questions over the role of several top leaders, including R C P Singh and Sharwan Kumar.
The BJP, however, gave a muted response to Kishor’s arrival.
After he ran the election campaign for the Bihar assembly in 2015, which resulted in a third consecutive win in the state election for Kumar, Kishor was appointed special adviser to the chief minister.
The Bihar Vikas Mission, a consultancy within the state government, was his brainchild.
Kishor, however, soon found himself flooded with work as the Congress contacted him for the Punjab and Uttar Pradesh polls.
Last year, after Kumar broke away from the mahagathbandhan and returned to the National Democratic Alliance, Kishor 'conveyed his inability' to continue as the CM's adviser.
But, Kumar couldn't stay away from his dependable poll manager. As the saffron party refused to give 'big brother' status to the JD-U, the Bihar CM knew that his party needed an expert to present its case.
The political strategist met senior JD-U leaders several times earlier this year.
Kumar met Kishor on May 5, when the former was in the national capital on official business. It was here that Kumar asked him to join active politics. Kishor, however, asked for time to think.
Almost a month later, Kumar invited him to a meeting of senior party functionaries at his official residence on June 3 to discuss party's strategy as an NDA ally in the 2019 election.
The meeting concluded with a decision to project Kumar as the top-most leader of the NDA in the state.
"The real purpose of the meeting was to send a clear message to senior leaders -- Kishor will be running the 2019 campaign for the JD-U. All left was a formal induction, which happened three months later," said a senior party leader.
JD-U leaders believe that Kishor's entry would benefit its case for contesting a larger number of seats in Bihar in next year's general election.
Most of them think that Kishor enjoys a close relationship with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah, given his past work with both in the Gujarat assembly election in 2012 and Modi’s 2014 campaign.
"The JD-U joined back the NDA in July 2017, but it’s not the BJP which Kumar knew and had worked with previously.
"All the decisions are now taken at the top and Kumar had no direct line there anymore. He desperately wanted someone who knew the inner workings of the new BJP...," said a JD-U leader.
The party has appointed Kishor as its chief interlocutor in the seat-sharing talks. He has spoken with Shah and is in constant touch with senior BJP functionaries considered close to the PM and the BJP chief.
With Kishor heading the negotiations, the JD-U is now bargaining hard for seats.
To add weight to the JD-U's case, he has also brought Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party closer to the JD-U.
In the last three-four months, the LJP has openly supported Kumar’s demands of special status and a larger share of central taxes for Bihar.
Kumar and Paswan have been seen together on multiple occasions. On the other hand, another ally, Upendra Kushwaha, is consciously being pushed aside.
The BJP has proposed a 20:20 formula to its alliance partners in Bihar.
Under this formula, the BJP would contest 20 of the 40 Lok Sabha seats in the state and the rest would go to its allies.
Of this, the JD-U would get 12, the LJP five and Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samata Party three seats. But, the JD-U is unwilling.
While JD-U leaders are happy with the way Kishor is heading the negotiations for the party, some point to the risks.
Many feel that the entry of Kishor at such a high-level would lead to dissatisfaction -- if not destabilisation -- within the party and/or its alliance with the BJP.
The entry of Kishor has raised questions about the future role of top lieutenants of Kumar, most importantly R C P Singh, an MP.
Singh, a 1984-batch IAS officer of the Uttar Pradesh cadre, was Kumar’s most trusted officer till 2010, when he took voluntary retirement from the civil services to join politics.
He was first elected to the Rajya Sabha in 2010 and then re-elected in 2016.
Singh is from the same caste and the district to which Kumar belongs, and is considered Number 2 in the JD-U. Kishor’s elevation could trigger a power struggle within the party.
When asked about the possibility of him being downsised, Singh joked: “I am 5-feet-4-inches, how can you downsize me any further?”
BJP leaders in the state are also not happy with Kishor’s induction in the JD-U. Apart from Deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi, no other leader from the party has issued a statement on the matter. Many saffron leaders believe that Kumar inducted him to send the BJP leadership a message and cut the state unit to size as Kumar would now have a direct line to Delhi.
“It (Kishor’s entry) will not have any impact on next year’s election. The election will be fought in the name of PM Modi. Moreover, Kishor has not helped win a single election...
"In 2014, it was Modi’s magic and in 2015, it was Lalu Prasad’s skills that snatched the election from us. Don’t you remember what happened to the Congress in Uttar Pradesh last year?” said a BJP minister.