Nitish's New Conundrum: Ahead of Polls, JDU Begins Hunt for Faces to Fill Prashant Kishor, Pavan Varma's Shoes
It needs to be seen who within the JD(U) will now be in that select group of leaders who Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar trusts blindly.
File photo of Bihar chief minister and JD(U) president Nitish Kumar.
To understand what the sacking of Pavan Varma and Prashant Kishor means for Nitish Kumar-led JD(U), and which party leaders would emerge stronger from this move, one needs to better understand the roles they were playing in the party.
Both these people made lateral entries into the party. Varma, who was India’s ambassador to Bhutan at that time, met Nitish Kumar who was part of a visiting Indian delegation. Kumar was so impressed that he first gave Varma an advisory role and then awarded him with a Rajya Sabha seat. Varma was Kumar’s face in New Delhi. This the crux of Varma’s story.
The more interesting story is about the rise and fall of Prashant Kishor. Based on detailed conversations with the party insiders, this is what we have been able to find about his rise and fall within the party.
When Kishor and his team were hired by the JD(U) in 2015, as was his style, he moved in with his team in the residence of the party leader. Gradually, he became quite close to Kumar and rose to become the party’s vice-president, much to the resentment of other senior leaders who had been with Kumar through thick and thin.
Many leaders within the JD(U) say Kishor caused more resentment within the party ranks through his autocratic way of functioning. He would call senior leaders and tell them how to campaign in their constituencies, which became a cause of irritation to some. They would often complain to Kumar about this ‘outsider’ telling the grass-roots leaders about how to connect with people.
Kumar would mediate and console both the sides, but it would only be a temporary solution, a mere balancing act. The underlying causes did not go away. These party leaders could not openly rebel against the man who otherwise had little support from anyone else in JD(U), who drew his powers from the party president, who used to sit next to the party president in every closed-door meeting.
It was largely understood that Kumar had given Prashant Kishor, who would often make statements against the BJP, a long rope. But when Kumar decided to stick with the BJP and when Amit Shah himself accepted Kumar as their coalition’s chief ministerial face, he really did not want any of his leaders saying anything that would destabilise the coalition. When Kishor kept poking the BJP at various fora, the senior JD(U) leaders again walked up to their party president and told him that Kishor’s statements were spreading confusion within party ranks. They wanted Kishor to be reined in.
But Kishor, who had in the meanwhile found clients in Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, perhaps had a business compulsion to speak against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Registrar of Citizens (NRC). The JD(U)’s position on these issues was clear – the party supported CAA but had some reservations about the NRC. When, despite repeated warnings, Kishor did not stop needling JD(U)’s alliance partner BJP, Kumar finally had to crack the whip and let him go.
Now, the only question that remains is, who within the JD(U) will now be in that select group of leaders who Kumar trusts blindly, and who will be active in managing party affairs from campaigning to resources. There are essentially five faces:
He’s a former bureaucrat from the UP cadre and comes from the same district as Nitish Kumar - Nalanda. He used to be Kumar’s personal secretary when he was union railway minister. Singh managed to impress Kumar so much that the latter persuaded him to leave the service and join the party. He is one of the few leaders who can walk into Kumar’s chambers any time. During his 25-year association with Kumar, he has mostly done the backroom job of managing party affairs. He’s right now a Rajya Sabha member.
Rajiv Ranjan or ‘Lalan Singh’
A bhumihar by caste, Lalan Singh has been Nitish Kumar’s personal aide for three decades and stood by him in his good and bad times. His prowess is in doing fool-proof paperwork, whether it is in furnishing evidence against Lalu Yadav in fodder scam or managing party’s own affairs. He’s Lok Sabha MP from Munger, the constituency adjoining Kumar’s Nalanda.
His is currently the minister for water resources in the state. He was earlier in the BJP. Jha started his career as the representative of Rajiv Pratap Rudy, who was an MP in charge of civil aviation ministry (2003-04). Over time, during his stay in the capital, Sanjay Jha became very close to Arun Jaitley and eventually became the bridge between Jaitley and Kumar. It was because of Sanjay Jha, a Maithili Brahmin, that Kumar would always meet Jaitley at his house for dinner, whenever he visited Delhi.
The minister for building construction in the state, Ashok Choudhary is the Dalit face of the party. He was Congress’s Bihar president and when he switched over to JD(U) he brought many leaders along with him. He has studied in prestigious western universities and is seen as a progressive.
Vijay Kumar Chaudhary
He is another personal aide of Kumar who enjoys his leaders’ trust due to their long association. He is a Bhumihar and presently the speaker of Bihar assembly.
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