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Nitish, Lalu's silent war over bill on convicted MPs

September 06, 2013 23:23 IST

With the bill to prevent disqualification of convicted politicians to decide the RJD chief’s political fate, there’s a lot at stake, especially with the 2014 elections in mind. Anita Katyal reports       

The bitter rivalry between Bihar’s longstanding political foes Chief Minister and Janata Dal-United leader Nitish Kumar and Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad Yadav is being played out silently and behind closed doors in Delhi.

Worried over an adverse verdict by a Ranchi court in the fodder scam, Lalu has spent the past few weeks lobbying hard with his Parliamentarian colleagues to pass the bill, which negates a Supreme Court order disqualifying a convicted person from contesting elections. The RJD chief fears that his political fate could be sealed without the protective cover of this bill, as it is expected that the impending court verdict will, in all likelihood, go against him. Lalu, accompanied by close party associate Prem Chand Gupta, has pleaded his case before all political leaders, including BJP’s Arun Jaitley.  

His rival Nitish, it is reliably learnt, has been equally active in ensuring that the bill does not get a parliamentary nod. Like the RJD chief, JD-U MPs have also been lobbying with other political parties, particularly the BJP, to see that the bill is put in cold storage, as this would ensure Lalu’s exit from next year’s crucial electoral battle and leave the field open for their party.  

As the monsoon session of Parliament drew to a close, it appears that Nitish has the upper hand, as this critical legislation has not come up for debate in either House. Law Minister Kapil Sibal was keen that the bill be passed in this session in view of his proximity to Lalu Yadav but given the time wasted in disruptions and the heavy legislative agenda which had to be cleared in the extended session, this bill fell by the wayside. The passage of the bill became untenable after the Supreme Court refused to review its earlier order disallowing convicted persons from contesting elections. The bill was introduced in the Rajya Sabha just two days before the session’s closure on Saturday.     

This bill was initially endorsed enthusiastically by all political parties, but the Bharatiya Janata Party had second thoughts about it because of political considerations with an eye on the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. It is not that the BJP wants to help its former ally Nitish, but the saffron party believes it could wean way the powerful Yadav voters to their fold if Lalu is disqualified from contesting the next election. 

Ever since he rode to victory in 1990 with the combined support of Yadavs and Muslims, the RJD chief’s hold over the Yadav community has not slackened. Even though he has been out of power for nearly a decade, Lalu continues to command the loyalty of the Yadavs. In fact, he was hoping to stage a comeback after the recent break-up between the JD-U and the BJP.    

According to BJP strategists, the Yadav vote could shift to their party as the community has been at the receiving end of the Nitish government and would like to see him out. This will only be possible if Lalu is kept out of the electoral fray as his absence would demoralise his cadres and create confusion among his Yadav supporters.

Feeling betrayed by Nitish, the BJP’s prime objective is to see the JD-U leader humbled. The party is, therefore, working on a strategy to woo the Yadavs to supplement their upper caste support base. The recent meeting between Gujarat chief minister and BJP’s campaign chief Narendra Modi and Lalu Yadav’s brother-in-law Sadhu Yadav is extremely significant. Though the RJD chief fell out with his brothers-in-law following their involvement in several controversies, Sadhu and his brother Subhash continue to have a following among the Yadavs. 

In case Lalu is jailed, the Yadav brothers could step in to provide leadership to their community, which will be looking for a replacement. Although it is not clear if the Yadavs and the upper castes would vote for the same party, having been on the opposite sides of the political spectrum, the BJP is taking no chances given the stakes involved in next year’s general election.
If the BJP is hoping to wean away the Yadavs from the RJD in Lalu’s absence from the election scene, Nitish is depending on the consolidation of the Muslim voters in his party’s favour. In fact, he snapped ties with the BJP in protest against Modi’s appointment as BJP’s campaign chief with the specific aim of wooing the minorities given their antipathy towards the Gujarat CM.

While the Bihar CM has been assiduously wooing the Muslims ever since his divorce with the BJP, he is also well aware that Lalu has the first claim to their loyalty. With the RJD showing distinct signs of returning to the political centrestage after a prolonged spell in the wilderness, Nitish can only hope to get the undivided support of the Muslims, if Lalu is not there to lead his party in the election. There is every danger of a split in the minority vote if the JD-U leader and the RJD chief are both in the fray. 

Anita Katyal in New Delhi