Neither RJD chief Lalu Prasad nor Bihar CM Nitish Kumar has announced yet when he will travel to Varanasi but the two trips have already become the centre of posturing by either leader’s party.
The RJD and the JD(U), partners in a coalition government, are trying to project their respective leaders for a larger national role ahead of assembly elections in Assam and West Bengal this year and in UP next year. The RJD has said the country needs Lalu’s “model of socialism and secularism” while JD(U) leaders have been describing Nitish Kumar as the “nucleus of anti-Narendra Modi politics”; the party is in talks with leaders of other states to forge a possible alliance.
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The trips to Varanasi are separate, and for different occasions. Neither side has set a date. Lalu is likely to visit Varanasi later this month to launch his “nationwide campaign” against Modi; he will reportedly hold a lantern (the RJD symbol) in his hand. Nitish, on the other hand, has accepted an invitation from All India Patel Navnirman Sena to address a kisan mahapanchayat in Varanasi. He is likely to visit there in end-February or early March, depending on when the budget session begins in the Bihar assembly.
“All programmes of the RJD national president will be decided after January 17. He will definitely start in Varanasi and go to West Bengal later,” said Lalu’s son Tejaswi, the deputy CM. RJD state president Ramchandra Purve said, “Laluji has already announced he will begin his campaign from Varanasi. Only finalising the date remains. The country needs Laluji’s model of socialism, secularism and social justice. Our national president has a long list of programmes ahead of assembly elections in various states.”
Sources said the RJD is upset about the JD(U) charting its own course for exploring alliances in other states. “There has been very little talk of replicating the grand alliance experiment; they are going it individually,” one leader said.
JD(U) national spokesperson and Rajya Sabha MP K C Tyagi, who was in Kochi, said: “We will decide the date of Nitish’s Varanasi visit after Makar Sankranti. The party will discuss when the CM will have time and decide the date.” Recently, Tyagi pitched Nitish as PM material.
Tyagi said JD(U) leaders are travelling to other states to explore alliance options and the RJD is welcome to join the drive. JD(U) state president Bashistha Narayan Singh said the CM would start his campaign against the NDA from Varanasi.
Nitish himself played it down: “These days, it is only through the media that I get to know about my schedule.”