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Friday, January 21, 2022

Uneasy allies: Why JD(U) and BJP are sparring

Though the two partners have always shared an edgy relationship, this was the first time in around six months that they had openly taken on each other.

Written by Santosh Singh | Patna |
Updated: December 23, 2021 11:44:52 am
BJP's Giriraj Singh and JD(U)'s Nitish Kumar. (File photos)

Earlier this week, the JD(U) and BJP, partners in the NDA government in Bihar, engaged in a two-front war of words. While in the Lok Sabha, the allies differed over the pace of rural road projects in the state, in Bihar, the two sparred over the demand for special category status.

Though the two partners have always shared an edgy relationship, this was the first time in around six months that they had openly taken on each other.

On Monday, Bihar CM Nitish Kumar reiterated his 15-year-old demand of special category status from the Centre for Bihar, citing the latest NITI Aayog report that placed the state among those at the bottom of development indices. He also said his deputy, Renu Devi of the BJP, who had earlier described the demand as “meaningless”, had “no detailed information” on Bihar’s claim.

A day later, BJP leader and state Minister of Information Technology Jiwesh Mishra shot back, saying the state has been getting more central assistance than other states. Mishra got an immediate rebuttal from senior JD(U) minister Bijendra Prasad Yadav, who said Bihar has been getting Central assistance as per the formula laid down by the Finance Commission, and dared the BJP leader to back his claim with data.

Around the same time, in the Lok Sabha, Pataliputra MP Ram Kripal Yadav and Union Panchayati Raj minister Giriraj Singh got together to attack the Nitish Kumar government over the pace of rural road projects under the Pradhan Mantri Gramin Sadak Yojna (PMGSY). Singh told Lok Sabha on Tuesday that about Rs 949 crore PMGDY funds were unutilised by the Bihar government. This was contested by JD(U) Nalanda MP Kaushlendra Kumar, who asked Singh if he had ever consulted the Nitish Kumar government on the matter.

What marks out the latest bout between the partners is that the BJP has chosen to target Nitish Kumar’s ‘good governance’ plank – something that has, over the last decade and a half, been touted as the JD(U) leader’s USP.

Sources in both the parties admit that equations have changed since the 2020 Assembly elections. Though the BJP won 74 seats, up from 53 in 2015, the party agreed to let Nitish Kumar remain CM. The JD(U) got only 43 seats, down from 71 in the previous election.

The party is evidently uncomfortable at having to play second fiddle to Nitish Kumar despite being the senior partner in the alliance. BJP has had to contend with two deputy CMs (Tarkishore Prasad and Renu Devi) while the JD(U) has retained all portfolios, including home and education, from Nitish Kumar’s previous term.

What has, however, kept the BJP and JD(U) together is the presence of a strong challenger in the RJD. The RJD-led alliance has 110 seats, only 12 short of simple majority – the Opposition party had emerged as the single largest in the 2020, with 75 seats. The BJP is also mindful of the fact that the JD(U) had joined hands with the RJD as part of the Mahagathbandhan.

Besides, for the BJP, which has not shown any signs of projecting its own leader who can match Nitish Kumar’s stature, he remains a Hobson’s choice.

The JD(U), despite being at its weakest since 2005, understands the BJP’s dilemma only too well, and thus keeps asserting its position from time to time.

While the JD(U) went on to hail Nitish Kumar as “PM potential” a few months ago at its national council meeting, the CM also led an all-party delegation to meet the PM to press for a caste census. The JD(U) had criticised the BJP government in UP for its draft Bill that encourages the two-child policy, saying education alone can help control population.

The two alliance partners also differ on the prohibition law in Bihar. While BJP leaders have so far refrained from attacking Kumar over the recurring hooch tragedies, the BJP is not too happy that the Bihar CM has made prohibition a prestige issue by putting too much pressure on the police forces to properly implement the liquor ban in the state.

The BJP, however, dismissed talk of differences in the NDA, with Nikhil Anand, national general secretary of the party’s OBC Morcha, saying, “The foundation of the NDA is rock solid. There shouldn’t be any interpretation of on and off statements by any leader. Individual opinions can’t be seen as differences in the coalition.”

While the JD(U) too dismissed talk of a rift, party national spokesperson K C Tyagi admitted the special status demand is a sticking point. “There is no renewed tiff between BJP and JD (U). The trigger is the latest report of the NITI Aayog that has put Bihar among bottom states in terms of backwardness. We are not targeting anyone but asking for Bihar’s rights. We have made substantial progress despite constraints but we do need special status to push development.”

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