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OPINION | Will the RSS Letter Controversy Prove to be Final Straw for ‘Imperfect’ JDU-BJP Alliance in Bihar?

Special Branch of the Bihar Police had recently issued a letter suggesting that Nitish Kumar government is trying to dig out the roots of the RSS by collecting details of the persons associated with it.

Ashok Mishra |

Updated:July 22, 2019, 12:02 PM IST
OPINION | Will the RSS Letter Controversy Prove to be Final Straw for ‘Imperfect’ JDU-BJP Alliance in Bihar?
File photo of Bihar CM Nitish Kumar with Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Patna: On the face of it, everything appears hunky-dory between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Janata Dal-United (JDU). But the fault lines underneath, caused by the tall claims made by chief minister Nitish Kumar of his significant role in the victory of the NDA in the Lok Sabha polls in Bihar, is widening by the day.

The day does not seem far when these fault lines would trigger a massive political quake, causing NDA house to crumble in Bihar. A minor jolt was recently felt by a letter issued by Special Branch of the Bihar Police suggesting that the Nitish Kumar government is trying to dig out the roots of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) by collecting details of the persons associated with it and its other affiliated outfits.

In a letter dated May 28, SP (Special Branch) Patna had directed deputy SPs to collect names, addresses, phone numbers and professions of the office bearers of RSS residing in their areas within a week. The SP had also asked to give information related to other 18 right-wing organisations supporting the RSS.

The letter created a political storm in the state, with the BJP leaders reacting with indignation and seeking an explanation from the JDU leadership. The matter was raised in the Bihar Legislative Council by BJP MLC and national media cell in-charge, Sanjay Mayukh, who is considered close to Union home minister and BJP national president Amit Shah. Mayukh demanded inquiry into the circumstances under which such a probe was ordered.

During his stint in the grand alliance, Nitish Kumar had given a call for ‘RSS-mukt Bharat’ (RSS-free India) on the pattern of BJP’s ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’ (India without Congress). Since Nitish Kumar holds the Home portfolio in Bihar, some BJP leaders reacted by questioning his intentions, bringing to the fore the rising degree of discomfort between the BJP and the JDU. “The BJP must be careful of the intentions of chief minister Nitish Kumar, who holds the Home portfolio,” observed BJP MLC Sachchidanand Rai.

Senior party MLA and state vice-president Mithilesh Tiwary averred that it reflects upon the ulterior motive of the government if the information is being gathered with a hidden agenda. “I wonder why Bihar police should keep surveillance on activists of the Sangh Parivar,” Tiwary said.

The BJP and RSS have over 135 organisations engaged in different fields. “The investigation into only 19 outfits is also mysterious. Was it a ploy to collect details about only such leaders who worked in the last Lok Sabha elections?” asked former BJP MLC Harendra Pratap.

The Opposition also took a dig at the ruling alliance by dubbing it as ‘imperfect alliance’ likely to crumble due to its own contradictions. “This episode clearly shows that the BJP and JDU are not natural partners but opportunistic allies who want to remain in power,” said Bhai Virendra, senior RJD legislator.

The government was quick to respond with G S Gangwar, additional director general of police, claiming that the state government had no role in it and that the letter seeking details of RSS members in the state was issued by a superintendent of police in his capacity.

“We carried out an investigation of the letter circulating in the media. It was found that it was sent by the SP and no other officer had any knowledge of the letter. The Home Ministry, the government or any other official in the police department had no part to play in this. There were no directions from them either," Gangwar told media persons on Wednesday.

A seemingly embarrassed government clarified that the information was sought because there were some specific inputs regarding threat to some RSS members. “However, the way in which it was handled was not correct. Proper action will be taken against the SP who was holding power at the time when the letter was issued," the ADG said.

The timing of the Special Branch letter is questionable as it was issued five days after declaration of the Lok Sabha poll results and two days before government formation at the Centre. The JDU differed on giving the entire credit for the spectacular victory to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and claimed to have significantly contributed to the poll victory as the Extremely Backward Castes (EBCs) and Mahadalits voted for the NDA due to it.

Though government officials call it a ‘routine exercise’ done by the Special Branch for every political outfit, it is being perceived largely that Nitish Kumar has tried to provoke the BJP and test the political waters ahead of the 2020 state assembly elections.

In fact, both the BJP and JDU sound like ‘strange bedfellows’ amid talks of political realignment ahead of the state assembly elections. Political circles are agog with speculations that the JDU might join hands with the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) or the Congress before the next state polls.

A section of the Bihar BJP leaders is also in favour of fighting the state polls separately or as bigger partner this time. But this would not be possible if the party continues ties with the JDU, which will ask for equal number of seats in the state assembly as it did in the last Lok Sabha polls. The BJP and JDU contested 17 seats each, while the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) contested on six seats.

The elevation of state BJP president Nityanand Rai to minister of state for home affairs in the union cabinet is a politically-loaded step indicating that he might be projected as the chief ministerial candidate in case the BJP decides to go alone with smaller partners like LJP in the assembly polls.

“The BJP is trying to expand the base by roping in 25 lakh new members during the ongoing membership drive in the state. This will certainly expand our base because of the very encouraging response from the people,” Rai said.

Since declaration of the Lok Sabha poll results, the JDU has been at variance with the BJP on many occasions. The JDU president Nitish Kumar did not accept the symbolic offer of lone berth in the union cabinet and, in a tit-for-tat, expanded his cabinet in Bihar by inducting only eight JDU leaders, leaving the BJP fuming and fretting. To keep the differences under wraps, Nitish had later clarified that one berth was offered to the BJP but it refused to accept the offer.

Since Nitish has reservations on certain issues like Articles 370 and 35A, which the BJP is likely to pursue vigorously in days to come, he decided to keep out of the union ministry. The JDU could not have opposed them by remaining part of the government and voting against it in the Parliament.

The BJP and the JDU have diametrically opposite views on certain issues like construction of Ram temple, uniform civil code, abrogation of Article 370 and annulment of Article 35A. While the BJP pursues these agenda vigorously, the JDU has maintained a distinct stance on them. Nitish has also maintained that he would never support any such move that deprived Jammu and Kashmir of a provision that has been in place.

The differences came into open when the JDU refused to vote in support of introduction of the Triple Talaq Bill in the Lok Sabha last month. Given the huge mandate, the BJP will not require the support of JDU and any of its other allies, but it certainly needs their support in the Rajya Sabha on the issue.

The BJP and JDU have seen many ups and downs since 2013 when Nitish severed ties with the BJP following projection of Narendra Modi as the prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 parliamentary polls. He contested the 2015 assembly polls in alliance with the RJD and Congress and became the chief minister of the grand alliance. When he felt uncomfortable in the company of Lalu Prasad Yadav, he deserted the RJD and again and joined hands with the BJP to remain in power.

(Author is a senior journalist. Views expressed are personal.)

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