As its key ally JD(U) indicated parting of ways with the BJP Monday, the latter was waiting and watching. However, while many hoped that Nitish Kumar was only “posturing” for a “larger pound of flesh” in the Union Cabinet, the unpredictability of the Bihar Chief Minister has the BJP on the edge.
There is also at least one change from earlier instances of Nitish’s brinkmanship that is making the BJP nervous. A BJP leader pointed to “the changed political scenario post the arrest of a close aide of RJD supremo Lalu Prasad”, leaving the RJD more pliant.
“This time, the threat looks serious,” a senior BJP leader said. “Nitish Kumar is unpredictable… he has proved that he could go to any extent,” added another party leader from Bihar.
For now, the BJP has decided not to send any emissary to Patna to “douse the fire”, and will wait for the meeting called by Nitish of his party workers Tuesday.
According to a senior BJP leader from Bihar, the arrest of Bhola Yadav, who used to be the Officer on Special Duty to Lalu Prasad during his tenure as the Railway Minister, in an alleged land-for-job case, has left the RJD camp desperate to strike a deal with Kumar.
“The RJD has dropped demands such as the CM post and is ready to make compromises with Nitish to form the government. This has given Nitish a lot of leg room to bargain with the BJP. His party has been demanding a larger role in the Union government, and now the posturing makes their demands look stronger,” a BJP leader said.
According to BJP sources, the RJD, which has been cosying up to Nitish for some time, is ready to settle for some key ministries now, instead of the CM post.
In the Bihar Assembly, the RJD is the single-largest party, with 75 seats. The JD(U) has 43. The BJP is behind the RJD by only one seat.
The BJP leadership had earlier indicated that it was ready to offer a Cabinet post to the JD(U) in place of R C P Singh, who ran afoul of Nitish for reportedly accepting the berth without Nitish’s nod. Singh, who had to resign after his Rajya Sabha tenure ended, quit the JD(U) Saturday.
BJP sources said that the JD(U) though was holding out for more than one ministerial berth, especially its national president Rajiv Ranjan Singh (Lalan Singh).
The majority view in the BJP is that Cabinet berths is just a ruse, and that Nitish has been pulling away from the party. The latest trigger point was a face-off with Bihar Assembly Speaker and BJP leader Vijay Kumar Sinha over invitations to Vidhan Sabha anniversary celebrations.
Nitish also sees the personal attacks on him by R C P Singh, once one of his closest aides, as made at the behest of the BJP. Singh has called the JD(U) a sinking ship and said a “jealous” Nitish would never become the prime minister. The JD(U) sees Singh breaking away from Nitish to try and carve his own path as also having the BJP’s blessing.
But while a section of the BJP unit in Bihar has always been critical of Nitish, the central leadership has been keen to continue the alliance, with him at the helm of affairs. Recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi sent Union minister Dharmendra Pradhan to Patna to placate Nitish.
State leaders argue that it was Nitish who opened the front against the BJP national leadership first, forcing their hand. “He has blamed us over denial of special status category, mobilised parties against us over the caste census issue, and then criticised us publicly over the Agnipath scheme,” a BJP MP said.