Breaking the grand alliance between his Janata Dal (United), Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Congress, which had stopped the Narendra Modi electoral juggernaut in Bihar in 2015, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar quit on Wednesday evening. And by midnight had secured the BJP’s support to form the next government in the state.
Just over four years ago, Nitish had split from the NDA and today he returned, claiming the “call of his conscience” over a CBI FIR against his Cabinet colleague and ally Lalu’s son Tejashwi Yadav. Elected as NDA leader at a hurriedly called meeting, Nitish will be sworn in on Thursday morning with BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi most likely to become his new deputy.
Sources said that as per the previous JD(U)-NDA government from 2005-2013, the NDA is likely to get 14 ministers. For his part, Tejashwi Prasad said that being the largest party with 80 MLAs in the House of 243, the RJD would also “seek time from the Governor to stake claim to form the government.” JD(U) has 71 MLAs, NDA 58 and Congress 27. While JD (U) and NDA have a majority, RJD and Congress have only 107, 15 short of simple majority. Lalu Prasad, who perhaps saw it coming, called the arrangement a “setting of RSS and BJP.” Click here for Nitish Kumar swearing-in LIVE updates
He said that Nitish had used the Tejashwi-won’t-resign alibi to switch to the saffron camp. There were early straws in the wind, he said: Nitish’s support for demonetisation, the surgical strike and his party’s vote for Ram Nath Kovind for President.
The immediate gain for Nitish, sources said, is his “comfort” in running the government with the BJP — Sushil Modi said as much to The Indian Express at the Idea Exchange programme earlier this month. Nitish’s party that was reduced to two MPs in the Lok Sabha in 2014 polls — from 20 seats in 200 — had aligned with the RJD for 2015 Assembly polls and won a total of 178 seats, handing BJP its first defeat under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Read: Sangh-mukt, Modi wave a blower: Nitish Kumar history. Click here
Today, Sushil Modi said: “We will support Nitish Kumar and join the government. We will stick with development with justice theme. What we said against the present government is thing of past. Let there be a new beginning now”.
Earlier, Nitish not only blamed the RJD for what he called its reluctance to maintain alliance dharma but also expressed his displeasure with AICC vice president Rahul Gandhi for not doing anything to save the alliance, especially against the backdrop of “his tearing up the ordinance against corruption.” Lalu, who looks cornered politically and legally, hopes to revive his Muslim-Yadav support base and rope in Dalits as well.
Barely weeks ago, the CBI had conducted raids at the premises of Lalu after having named him, his wife and former CM Rabri Devi and Tejashwi in the land-for-hotel case. Nitish said it had become “difficult for him” to work under the prevalent atmosphere. He said he had never sought Tejashwi’s resignation and added: “I heard the voice of my conscience and decided to quit”.
His decision to resign came after he advanced the meeting of his legislators from tomorrow to this evening. The JD(U) meeting was held soon after RJD legislators met and reiterated that Tejashwi would not resign. After he had given his resignation to Governor K N Tripathi, Nitish dropped enough hints. “Aage kya hoga, kaisa hoga, dekhte jaiye (Just keep watching what happens next). When asked specifically if JD(U) would go back to BJP, Nitish Kumar said: “We will explore the option of working with anyone that can help us with our motto of development with justice”. Both JD(U) and BJP ruled out any mid-term poll saying that people had given a “mandate for five years”.
Lalu referred to an old case against Nitish Kumar. “Nitish has been facing a murder case, which has been pending before High Court. “Atyachar bada hai ya bhrashtachar, kaisi imandari? Kaisa zero tolerance (which is bigger — atrocity or corruption? What propriety? What zero tolerance?).”
Minutes after Nitish’s resignation, the PM himself gave an indication of what was to follow by a series of tweets. “Bhrashtachar ke khilaf ladai mein judne ke liye Nitish Kumar ji ko bahut bahut badhai. Sava-sau crore nagrik imandari ka swagat aur samarthan kar rahe hain (Many congratulations to Nitish Kumar for joining the fight against corruption. 125 crore citizens have been welcoming and supporting honesty),” he posted. In another tweet, Modi posted: “It is the demand of time and the nation to rise above personal differences and join hands to fight corruption for the bright future of the country and especially Bihar.”
This is the second time that Nitish has resigned from the CM’s post. In 2014, following the JD(U)’s drubbing in the Lok Sabha polls, Kumar quit, naming Jitan Ram Manjhi as his successor. However, he replaced Manjhi later after a bitter exchange of words between the two.
Through this month, Kumar’s JD(U) repeatedly signalled that Tejashwi should quit after the FIR in a case related to the award of hotel tenders by father and RJD chief Lalu Prasad when he was the Union rail minister in 2006. The FIR also stated that Lalu’s family, including Tejashwi, had allegedly received a prime plot of land in Patna in exchange for awarding the tenders to a business group.
Nitish quoted Mahatma Gandhi to say that the Earth has enough to meet the need of all but not the greed of any, and wondered at the “tendency to acquire so much of money”.