Patna: Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is readying to snap ties with Lalu Prasad Yadav in what could mark the premature end of one of the most unlikely – and successful – political alliances in the country, multiple sources told News18.
An announcement in this regard could come soon as the JDU supremo has made up his mind to steer clear of the political muck surrounding the RJD founder and his family after a series of raids by the Enforcement Directorate and the I-T Department on cases including money laundering.
“The grand alliance cannot be saved…We were much more comfortable with the BJP,” Rajya Sabha MP and JDU spokesperson K C Tyagi told News18. Senior JDU leader Shivanand Tiwari echoed Tyagi’s words: “JDU has no say in this alliance.”
BJP leader and former deputy chief minister Sushil Modi said he was not surprised that the Mahagatbandhan was on the verge of collapse. “From Day One, we knew that this kind of alliance cannot sustain for five years. We thought it will go on for at least 2-3 years, but so much bickering has been happening since beginning,” he told News18.
Top sources told News18 that Nitish would have given Lalu more time had it not been for the RJD leader’s private efforts to strike a compromise with BJP, which, in effect would have jeopardized the JDU-RJD alliance. Lalu’s efforts to build a bridge with the BJP could have made Nitish’s political position as CM vulnerable as his JDU has only 71 seats in the 243-member Assembly. RJD has 80 seats while BJP has 53 seats.
Highlighting the fact that Nitish had supported demonetisation, surgical strikes and, most recently, the nomination of Ram Nath Kovind as a presidential candidate, Sushil Modi said, “Nitish was very uncomfortable in this alliance. He cannot run the government with people like Lalu.”
When asked if BJP was ready to partner with Nitish once again, Modi said, “Nothing can be ruled out in politics… I just told Nitish that we will see what we can do only when he comes out of this alliance.”
Nitish and Lalu had been bitter political opponents for over two decades but came together in 2015 during the Bihar assembly polls and trounced BJP. Nitish was accused then by the Opposition of showing rank opportunism for tying up with Lalu, one of the rare political leaders convicted by a court of law in a corruption case.
The coalition government began on a good note but a torrent of allegations and CBI raids on the Lalu family spoiled the show soon. For starters, Lalu is facing four separate trials in fodder scam cases in which regular hearing is taking place since the Supreme Court ordered in May this year that the trials must be completed within nine months.
In the recent past, Income Tax Department and Enforcement Directorate have carried out a series of raids at properties allegedly belonging to Lalu’s family members through benami transactions. Lalu’s daughter Misa Bharti and her husband were questioned in this regard. While it’s alleged that Misa and her husband indirectly own 12 pieces of land, including a posh farmhouse in Bijwasan in Delhi, a shopping mall in Patna worth Rs 700 crore is allegedly owned through a complex channel by Lalu’s children including Misa, her sister Chanda Yadav and others.
Lalu’s son and Bihar deputy chief minister Tejaswi Yadav is also accused of holding a bungalow in Delhi’s New Friends Colony as a benami property. Tejashwi’s brother Tej Pratap allegedly held control of a prime property and petrol pump in Patna, licence for which was recently cancelled by a public sector oil marketing firm.
Hints of a likely rupture in the so-called Mahagatbandhan came last week when Nitish pledged support to BJP’s nominee for Presidential polls, Ram Nath Kovind. The Bihar CM’s move took the entire anti-BJP brigade by a surprise, and the Lalu camp was quite vocal about what they called a “historical blunder”.
The Congress tried to push Nitish into a corner by announcing Meira Kumar – former Lok Sabha Speaker and daughter of Bihar’s Dalit icon Babu Jagjivanram – as its own candidate, but he stood his ground.
The ensuing war of words had JDU’s Tyagi accusing the leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha, Ghulam Nabi Azad, of “indulging in character assassination” of Nitish.
Azad had earlier said that “Nitish was doing his best to damage Meira Kumar’s chances in Presidential polls.”
However, with Nitish hardening his position, the RJD was seen playing down the differences and Lalu summoned a few outspoken RJD leaders asking them not to escalate the crisis by making anti-Nitish statements.
“The CM wanted to send a clear message to those whose deeds are causing a stink,” a close aide to Nitish had told News18 on condition of anonymity last week, with regard to him breaking ranks with Opposition on Presidential polls.
Nitish was looking for opportunities to distance himself from Lalu & Co, and this one came along, he said, adding, “Nitish Kumar ki poori jama poonji daav par lagi hai (Nitish had staked his entire reputation in this alliance with Lalu).”
Should Nitish breakaway finally, he will have to join hands with BJP, the erstwhile partner he broke away from in 2013 after BJP announced Narendra Modi as its PM candidate. For a man who was once dubbed as the “secular” alternative to Modi, it would indeed be an interesting homecoming to fight the 2019 Lok Sabha polls alongside accepting Modi as his leader.