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Why Nitish is letting AAP be

Bihar CM avoids attacking vigilante politics; JD(U) praises AAP, cites similar ideologies, looks at erosion of Modi votes.

Inside the AAP’s Patna office, ‘donated’ by a former RJD minister’s daughter-in-law.Ravi S Sahani Inside the AAP’s Patna office, ‘donated’ by a former RJD minister’s daughter-in-law. Ravi S Sahani

BECAUSE of the style of its politics in Delhi, the Aam Aadmi Party has been the subject of criticism and ridicule from regional parties in various parts of  the country as it seeks to grow in those states. Not from the JD(U) in Bihar.

The ruling party, which looks tightly placed for the Lok Sabha elections after it split from the BJP, has gone as far as supporting the AAP brand of populist and vigilante politics.

With recent poll surveys predicting a dismal performance by Nitish Kumar as the BJP plays up Narendra Modi’s claim to the prime minister’s chair, the JD(U) sees no reason to oppose the AAP. Should the AAP get even three to four per cent of the votes, it will add that many more to Nitish’s “anti-Modi” agenda. In the last elections, the JD(U) and the BJP had managed 38 per cent of the votes to the RJD-LJP’s 24 per cent and the Congress’s 10 per cent.

It is not as if the AAP has a poll strategy in place. The half-dozen functionaries at the party office in Patna don’t even know who their candidates will be. They concede they have no prominent face yet against the likes of Nitish Kumar, Lalu Prasad and Sushil Modi, and stress their leaders are emerging from among the aam aadmi.

The office is at House No. 83 on Road No. 21 of S K Nagar, which is not famous as an address yet, though any rickshaw-puller or hawker can guide one there. A few plastic chairs and a wooden table, with a large AAP banner in the background, are all it has. The functionaries seek “the media’s support in helping a new party take birth in Bihar”, and provide updates on a membership drive that ended January 26, claiming they now have 13 lakh members including 1.25 lakh in Patna.

The house, interestingly, has been “donated” by Kumari Neetu Rani, daughter-in-law of former RJD minister Ramdev Singh Yadav. Rani is an active AAP member now. RJD chief Lalu Prasad has been mocking the AAP, likening it to “bubbles” and calling it a party of “novices”.

Nitish Kumar, on the other hand, has been refraining from commenting on the AAP style of politics, which has been criticised even by the President. Nitish has been praising Arvind Kejriwal, however, though he feels the latter should not take credit for janata darbars since the innovation was the former’s, now being followed by several leaders across the country.

“We don’t oppose the AAP because it is born out of the Anna Hazare movement for citizens’ charters and against corruption. We have implemented the Right to Public Services Act and taken other anti-graft measures, and hence are not ideologically different from the AAP,” JD(U) national spokesperson KC Tyagi, a Rajya Sabha MP, told The Indian Express.

Asked if the JD(U) subscribes to the AAP’s excessive populism and vigilante politics, Tyagi said: “Anarchy at times is better than the status quo being supported by the BJP, the Congress and the RJD. We may have some issues with their style of functioning but we support the spirit of the AAP’s anti-corruption and participative politics.”

Tyagi said his party welcomes the AAP’s rise and would not mind if it goes on to contest all 40 Bihar seats. “When we have ideological similarities, we don’t think they are going to cut into our vote banks,” he said.

The AAP’s Bihar spokesperson, A N Singh, however, denied any closeness to the ruling party. Rather, as the ruling party, the JD(U) would face most of the AAP’s attacks, he said.

“We are out to expose corruption in this government. We recently opposed removal of unauthorised constructions near Patna Medical College,” Singh said, alleging that the Patna Municipal Corporation had tried to create problems for the AAP when it tried to set up an office. The government has undertaken a drive to remove slum clusters from near the medical college without “any rehabilitation plan”. Twenty AAP workers were arrested Sunday for protests.

Singh said AAP volunteers had been taking up inflated electricity bills, doubling of holding tax, removal of subsidy for farmers and large-scale irregularities in public distribution. As of now, the party has a setup of four zonal units in Bihar. From February, it will have a state council.

Though the party’s present structure in Bihar is not personality-centric, the faces most prominent so far are of Arif Raza Masumi and Surajdev Yadav. Masumi, coordinator for Magadh zone, who used to run an advertising agency, joined the Anna Hazare movement and later the AAP. “Leaders are not important for now. We are concentrating on building a new party with fresh ideas to take up public issues,” said Masumi, a resident of Jehanabad.

Yadav is a Patna-based lawyer who was a CPI(ML) leader earlier. JP movement veterans Somnath Tripathy and Devnath Devan too have joined the AAP because of its focus on corruption.

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