The release of former RJD MP Mohammed Shahabuddin on bail continued to expose fissures in Bihar’s ruling alliance Sunday as he engaged Chief Minister Nitish Kumar in a verbal duel while at least one RJD leader endorsed Shahabuddin’s views on Nitish’s standing. On Saturday, Shahabuddin had called Nitish a “CM of circumstances”. Nitish reacted Sunday that it was not to respond to “such things (Shahabuddin’s criticism)” that the people had given him a mandate. “Everyone knows whom people have given the mandate. I have never reacted to such things,” Nitish said, going on to advise the media not to spend time and space on Shahabuddin.
Shahabuddin reacted to his too. “As far as mandate is concerned, even Madhu Koda (independent MLA who have become Jharkhand CM) had got a mandate,” Shahabuddin said at his home in Siwan. He reiterated that Lalu Prasad was his leader. RJD vice-president Raghuvansh Prasad Singh threw his weight behind him. “Shahabuddin has not said anything wrong; it is Lalu Prasad who is our leader,” said the former Union minister. “I had opposed the move to make Nitish the CM but the party went ahead with it. Shahabuddin is right in calling Nitish a leader of circumstances.”
It was left to other RJD leaders including Deputy CM Tejashwi Prasad Yadav, Lalu’s son, to do some firefighting by stressing that Nitish is the “undisputed leader of the Grand Alliance”. Lalu’s RJD has a larger share of members in the assembly, 80, than the 71 with Nitish’s JD(U). The third partner in the Grand Alliance, the Congress, has 27 MLAs. It expressed disapproval of the muscle-flexing between its senior partners. “We contested the elections under Nitish and he is our leader,” said AICC media panelist Prem Chandra Mishra.
JD(U) spokesperson Neeraj Kumar stood up for his CM. “Nitish Kumar is not an incidental CM but won a historic mandate,” Kumar said. “Mohammed Shahabuddin, someone who was in jail for 11 years and is convicted in many cases, has no right to sermonise on politics. Our government will not compromise on law and order and knows how to deal with such things.” With the government under criticism for Shahabuddin’s release, the JD(U) echoed Nitish in saying that Shahabuddin is on bail as part of the judicial process.