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'Nitish Kumar has to choose between dignity and power'

By Satyavrat Mishra
January 25, 2021 17:59 IST
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As the ruling alliance starts feeling the tremors, discussions on new equations have also started, reports Satyavrat Mishra. 

IMAGE: Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the campaign trail during the assembly elections in October 2020. Photograph: Pappi Sharma / ANI Photo.

Rupesh Kumar Singh, 40, was sprayed with bullets while he was in his SUV just outside his home in Patna's Punaichak locality.

He was a popular figure in the Bihar capital: An executive with the IndiGo airline and posted at the airport, which made him familiar with politicians flying in and out of Patna.

His murder just added to the clamour from the opposition and the Bharatiya Janata Party, part of the ruling dispensation, that Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar no longer had it in him to run the Bihar government.

Kumar uncharacteristically lost his temper at a reporter who asked him questions about law and order at a press conference.

The chief minister seemed to believe that everyone was turning on him.

The Janata Dal-United, too, has made no secret of the fact that it expects the BJP to be more supportive after an assembly election that saw the JD-U's strength depleted.

Kumar himself led the charge, barely a month after forming a coalition government with the BJP.

"I had absolutely no desire to become chief minister. I had made it clear that the office could go to the BJP. I, however, accepted the offer due to pressure," he said.

Ramchandra Prasad Singh, better known as RCP, the newly anointed president of the party, also focused on the alliance partner.

"Nitish ji has been leading the coalition government since 2005. In 2020, the BJP had a better strike rate due to his performance. We remain loyal to whoever is with us. We don't betray anyone, conspire against anyone, or trick anyone," said the new president.

Betray? Conspire? Trick? Where was all this coming from?

The rift

Tensions between the allies flared up after six of the seven JD-U legislators in Arunachal Pradesh joined the BJP.

"It's a grave violation of the coalition dharma. We are hurt," said the JD-U's K C Tyagi.

The BJP has so far refused to comment on what happened in Arunachal Pradesh, but has said that it would not affect the government in Bihar.

"What happened in Arunachal will not affect our coalition in Bihar," said Deputy Chief Minister Renu Devi.

Problems within the coalition started even before the assembly elections were announced last year.

The Lok Janshakti Party's pointed targeting of the JD-U in the assembly elections, many in the JD-U believe, was responsible for its poor electoral performance.

"Samajh hi nahi sake ki kaun dost tha, aur kaun dushman (I failed to differentiate between friends and foes)," Nitish Kumar told his party colleagues last week.

A JD-U leader said, "What's more hurtful than Chirag's (LJP leader Chirag Paswan's) rebellion? The fact is that it went unpunished."

The reasons

The JD-U thinks the BJP is trying to take the upper hand.

Not only does the latter want more positions in the council of ministers, it is seeking 'important' portfolios such as home.

Nitish Kumar, however, is adamant: 'Home' will stay with the chief minister.

The transfer and posting of bureaucrats is another matter of concern for the coalition.

The BJP wants to remove some secretaries who are considered close to Nitish Kumar.

Additional Chief Secretary Amir Subhani is on top of this list. For the past 15 years, Subhani has been heading the home department.

The issue of 12 seats in the Bihar legislative council has not been resolved.

The BJP is asking for a larger share, but the JD-U is not ready.

The others

As the ruling alliance starts feeling the tremors, discussions on new equations have also started.

The main opposition party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, has started sending feelers to Nitish Kumar.

"If Nitish ji quits the National Democratic Alliance and appoints Tejashwi Yadav his successor, the opposition will try to project him as prime minister candidate," said RJD leader Uday Narayan Choudhary.

RJD Vice-President Shivanand Tiwari said the "ball is now in Nitish Kumar's court. The BJP is humiliating him. What else can explain the poaching of JD-U MLAs in Arunachal, where the BJP was enjoying a comfortable majority".

"Nitish Kumar has to take a tough call on what matters most to him -- his dignity or power."

On the lookout for alternatives

Nitish Kumar, meanwhile, is also keeping an eye out for new partners. He recently met the beleaguered Rashtriya Lok Samta Party chief Upendra Kushwaha.

This meeting fuelled speculation of Kushwaha returning to the JD-U's fold.

Last month, the lone MLA of the Bahujan Samaj Party, Mohammed Jama Khan from the Chainpur constituency, had a meeting with JD-U leaders.

This led to talk of his joining the JD-U.

The independent MLA from Chakai, Sumit Singh, has pledged support to Nitish Kumar.

Congress MLAs are considered the most vulnerable to political poaching.

The party has 19 members in the 243-member assembly. Two-thirds of them, ie, 13, are required to jump ship to escape the anti-defection law.

The bottom line: The BJP needs Nitish Kumar as much as he needs the BJP.

So while the government will continue, more turbulence can't be ruled out.

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Satyavrat Mishra in Patna
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