The revolt in the RJD fizzled out on Tuesday, leaving the JD(U) with egg on its face and handing Lalu Prasad a stick to beat Chief Minister Nitish Kumar with. Less than 24 hours after walking out, nine of the 13 rebellious MLAs “returned” to the RJD in Lalu’s presence, who paraded them triumphantly before the Speaker.
The MLAs claimed they had signed no paper announcing they were quitting, Lalu accused Nitish of “fraud”, and other RJD leaders threatened to file criminal cases against the “conspirators” if the notification recognising the rebels as a separate group in the assembly was not withdrawn.
Speaking in Delhi, Nitish insisted that while people might like to discuss the “technical aspects” of the RJD MLAs’ defection, politically, Lalu’s party was “on the verge of a split” and, “if people come to us, we will welcome them”.
It was clear, however, that the fiasco had embarrassed the JD(U) and Nitish, who have for long assumed the high moral ground with claims of their “clean politics”.
Lalu, who was in Delhi when the crisis hit on Monday, waited for two hours on Tuesday for all the rebels to return. Four, including Parbatta MLA Samrat Choudhary, the leader of the rebellion, did not respond to his call. He herded the other nine to the assembly.
“This is outright cheating and fraud. We are bringing the matter before the assembly Speaker and the Governor”, he thundered.
Sources said a senior JD(U) leader was the driving force behind the bid to split the RJD. There was speculation that RJD legislature party leader Abdul Bari Siddiqui would lead the breakaway group, but Siddiqui reportedly chose to ultimately honour his longstanding relationship with Lalu.
“I am used to such allegations. I had once told Laluji that Rabriji can leave you, but not me,” Siddiqui, who brought the nine MLAs to the RJD chief’s residence, said on Tuesday.
Sources said the notice for the split was submitted to the Speaker 10 days ago. But the genuineness of the 13 signatures was not ascertained. Lalit Yadav, one of nine MLAs who returned, said: “We sign so many papers during assembly proceedings. Samrat Choudhary had once got us to sign a paper carrying his demand to the RJD chief for the Lok Sabha ticket from Khagaria.”
Besides Choudhary, three other MLAs — Javed Iqbal Ansari, Akhatarul Iman and Raghvendra Pratap Singh — have not returned to the RJD.
Congress legislature party leader and former speaker Sadanand Singh told The Indian Express, “The Speaker’s notification is unconstitutional for two reasons: first, at least two thirds of the legislature party, or 15 MLAs, were required for the breakaway group to be recognised and, second, the Speaker should have ensured the physical presence of all MLAs before notifying the group.”
Singh said the assembly must denotify the group in order to escape constitutional and political embarrassment. “Or else, the RJD will have to move court. Till then, the Speaker’s notification will stand,” said the former speaker.
There is some discomfort in the JD(U) because its House numbers (115, without the Speaker) are six short of a majority. The 243-member Bihar assembly has an effective strength of 241, with an MLA dead and another having resigned. The JD(U) fears the withdrawal of support by the four Congress MLAs, and is unsure about how the four independents would behave, especially if the chief minister chooses not to expand his ministry immediately.