The Bihar Chief Minister and Janata Dal (United) supremo, Nitish Kumar, would often talk of “triple C’s (crime, corruption and communalism)” as the core guidance principle of his governance model and a bit of his party’s ideology too. And very often, he would choose to switch between two C’s – corruption and communalism.
When Nitish had severed ties with the BJP in 2013, it was on the ground that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) should have a leader with a “clean and secular image”. He had then parted ways when it became clear that the then Gujarat CM Narendra Modi was going to be the BJP-led NDA’s Prime Ministerial face for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
After walking out of the NDA then, Nitish had given a call for “Sangh-mukt Bharat”. Nitish had also gone on to declare that “mitti mein mil jayenge, BJP ke saath wapas nahi jayenge (I would prefer to be reduced to dust rather than going back to BJP)”.
In the run-up to the November 2015 elections to the 243-member state Assembly, Nitish joined hands with the arch rival Lalu Prasad-led Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Congress and some other smaller parties to form a “Grand Alliance” which won 178 seats, with Nitish again taking over as the CM. The astute JD(U) stalwart was then accused of dumping one C – communalism – for another C – corruption – given the point that Lalu had continued to be under the fodder scam cloud. In mid-2017, the CBI conducted raids at Lalu’s premises in an alleged IRCTC scam in whichthe then Deputy CM Tejashwi Yadav, Lalu’s son, was also named as one of the accused for allegedly being a beneficiary of the land transfers from the RJD supporters for railway jobs.
As Tejashwi was Nitish’s deputy, the latter wanted him to explain his position in public and had also expected him to resign. The RJD saw a plot in it to cause embarrassment for the party and taint its image further. By then Nitish had decided that he would return to the NDA. He made one final call to Lalu to inform him about his decision. A stunned Lalu could tell him nothing except, with resignation, that “So you are going.”
After breaking up with the RJD in July 2017, Nitish again forged an alliance with the BJP and formed their government. Continuing as the CM, he resumed his camaraderie with the BJP’s Sushil Kumar Modi as his deputy. Things went on smoothly till the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, when the BJP won all 17 seats it fought from and the JD (U) bagged 16 of 17 seats the party contested. With the LJP winning six of six seats it contested, the NDA’s tally rocketed to 39 out of the total 40 Lok Sabha seats in the state – its best-ever performance.
But the alliance between the JD(U) and the BJP started deteriorating ahead of the 2020 Assembly polls, when the BJP had been in two minds about declaring Nitish as the NDA’s CM candidate again and on contesting equal number of seats. As the JD (U) started targeting the BJP for lack of leadership and Nitish being the only winnable face of the NDA in the state, the BJP had to declare Nitish as the CM candidate and also agreed to share an equal number of seats in the polls.
But the BJP allegedly played its own game in a bid to curtail the JD(U)’s influenceby getting the LJP to walk out of the NDA and getting its leader Chirag Paswan to fight from almost all seats the JD (U) candidates contested. As a consequence, the JD(U) was reduced to 43 seats from 71 seats. From the single largest party with 115 seats in 2010, it became the number three party behind the RJD (75) and the BJP (74) in the 2020 polls. This “Chirag model of conspiracy against Nitish” was raked up by JD (U) national president Rajiv Ranjan Sigh alias Lalan Singh on Sunday.
In his current term as the CM, Nitish did enjoy his usual primacy as he kept all his earlier portfolios with the JD(U) also sharing the MLC seats equally with the BJP. There has been however a growing strain in Nitish’s relations with the BJP leadership as the saffron party kept aggressively focusing on its organisational growth and its leaders, such as Ram Surat Rai, Samrat Choudhary, Haribhushan Thakur and even state president Sanjay Jaiswal, kept firing salvos at Nitish on various matters.
Nitish differed with the BJP on the population control proposal, caste census, demand for special category status for Bihar, and the denial of Central university status to the Patna University. This is why Nitish did not raise any demand for Bihar when PM Modi addressed the Vidhan Sabha centenary function on July 12.
Besides, Nitish had a face-off with Assembly Speaker and BJP leader Vijay Kumar Sinha on matters of running the House. Though they built bridges, the chill in their relationship continued, which was reflected during the centenary event when Nitish’s name did not feature in its invitation card from the Speaker. Since then, he has skipped four important central meets including Sunday’s NITI Aayog event held by the PM.
Now, Nitish could be back to shuffling his C’s and choosing his 2013 C card of communalism. Lalu has already been given five convictions in the fodder scam cases and Tejashwi has also been an accused in the IRCTC case. Lalu’s aide Bhola Yadav was recently arrested by the CBI in the job-for-land case.
JD(U) sources say the corruption cases against Tejashwi was part of the central dispensation’s “political vendetta” and that it would be more important to “thwart the progress of the BJP than anything else”.
The JD(U) has reportedly been pressuring the BJP for holding simultaneous Lok Sabha and Bihar Assembly elections in 2024 – a proposal the BJP has not accepted.
The JD(U) fears that the BJP may “dump” the party after securing victory in the 2024 parliamentary polls while preferring to go alone in the 2025 Assembly polls with support of some smaller parties. The party’s bid to turn up the heat on the BJP now might be its pushback against that possibility. “If BJP has operation 2024 against us — win with us and then dump us – there could be a counter 2022 operation from us as a befitting reply,” JD(U) sources say.
This could be the reason why Lalan Singh Sunday also talked about the “RCP plot against Nitish”. Singh also said he would elaborate it at the right time. Another JD(U) leader said Nitish was no Uddhav Thackeray and “he could nip any Eknath Shinde in its ranks as he did with RCP Singh”.