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Wednesday, Oct 05, 2022

Tejashwi, Nityanand Rai rivalry flares as they brace for CM, Yadav leadership battles ahead

The latest exchange of fireworks between the BJP and the RJD started after Rai joined his state party colleagues to flay Tejashwi for his "murti (statue)" jibe at Droupadi Murmu, the NDA's Presidential candidate.

RJD leader Tejashwi Prasad Yadav and Union minister of state for home Nityanand Rai. (File)

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) in Bihar have been locked in a slugfest over the last several days following top RJD leader Tejashwi Prasad Yadav’s sharp attack on Union minister of state for home Nityanand Rai charging that the latter had “come with a request to be taken into the RJD when he had not become a minister”.

Returning fire, the BJP rolled out several of its leaders, including state party president Sanjay Jaiswal, to not just mount a counter-attack on Tejashwi but to also float a reverse story.

Jaiswal and other state BJP leaders such as party vice president Rajiv Ranjan and OBC Morcha national general secretary Nikhil Anand said that it was actually RJD chief Lalu Prasad and Tejashwi, who, they alleged, had once given hints of offering support to the BJP if they were given “relaxation” in fodder, ED and IRCTC scams allegedly involving the Lalu Prasad family.

These BJP leaders, while not giving any details, might be referring to 2016-2017 when Nitish Kumar had been heading the Grand Alliance government along with the RJD and other parties. Ahead of the subsequent split in their alliance, Lalu along with his party colleague Prem Chand Gupta had reportedly met the then Union finance minister Arun Jaitley to purportedly request him to “consider some legal relief” for the RJD chief and his family in these cases. Former Bihar deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi later went on record disclosing this meeting.

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The latest exchange of fireworks between the BJP, the senior partner in the incumbent Nitish Kumar-led government, and the RJD, the principal Opposition and single-largest party in the state Assembly, started after Rai, the senior BJP leader and two-term Ujiyarpur MP, joined his state party colleagues to flay Tejashwi for his “murti (statue)” jibe at Droupadi Murmu, the NDA’s Presidential candidate.

Tejashwi had on July 17 asked, “Has anyone heard Droupadi Murmu speaking? We need a President, not a murti (statue)”, adding that while the joint Opposition’s Presidential nominee Yashwant Sinha had been spelling out his views and vision, Murmu had not held any press conference.

While Tejashwi did not react to other BJP leaders’ broadsides against him over his “murti” remark, he chose to join issue with Rai, charging that the latter did not have any “moral courage” to speak as he had purportedly approached him expressing his willingness to join the RJD once.

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Tejashwi’s claims triggered a blowback from the BJP, although Rai himself did not react and remained on his guard.

Bihar BJP vice president Rajiv Ranjan told The Indian Express: “Tejashwi and Rai met just once, coincidentally. in a flight, over the last five years. It is Tejashwi who had sought relief from Rai, who had by then become Union minister of state for home affairs. And why should Rai want to join RJD? Even before becoming a minister, he had been Bihar BJP president, a powerful post in itself.”

RJD national spokesperson Subodh Kumar Mehta, however, said: “BJP has been trying to avoid embarrassment in its defence of Rai. Everyone knows that RJD has never compromised with its ideology unlike Nitish Kumar, who keeps changing alliances as per political convenience. BJP seems to be investing in Rai and feels embarrassed if he is targeted”. Mehta added that Lalu has been an Opposition leader who could still take on the saffron party.

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A key reason for the BJP’s sharp reaction to Tejashwi’s assault on Rai lies in the fact that the latter is one of its most high-profile state leaders and a prominent Yadav face, whose name has been doing the rounds in state political circles as the saffron party’s possible chief ministerial candidate in future.

Rai, who hails from Hajipur, has been in the RJD crosshairs for many years. When Lalu had been holding sway in Chhapra and Hajipur belts because of his hold over Yadavs, Rai was the BJP’s lone Yadav leader, who tried to challenge Lalu in his stronghold.

An organisational leader, Rai came to limelight when he became the state BJP president just before he was inducted into the Narendra Modi ministry 2.0 in May 2019.

Rai is said to be close to Union home minister Amit Shah and Union minister and BJP ex-Bihar in-charge Bhupendra Yadav. He had been seeking to project himself as the state BJP’s potential CM face for the 2025 Assembly polls. He, however, recently paused such posturings in view of the strained BJP-JD(U) ties and after the central BJP leaders made it clear that Nitish will continue as Bihar’s NDA leader.

The BJP has been in two minds over projecting Rai as its potential CM candidate on account of the point that Yadavs are overwhelmingly affiliated to the RJD in the state. With Lalu taking a backseat due to his illness and court cases and Tejashwi emerging as the RJD’s principal leader and CM face now, the party is however wary of Rai due to its apprehension that the latter might emerge as a challenger to Tejashwi’s hold over the community in future.

First published on: 20-07-2022 at 07:02:28 pm
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