RJD fishes in Bihar’s troubled waters, talks of Nitish Kumar for PM in 2024

Maintaining that they are keeping a close eye on the developments in Bihar, senior RJD leaders said it is “clear that the BJP is asserting its authority” over Nitish Kumar in the Bihar alliance as well.

Amid signs of a strain in the BJP-JD(U) relationship, senior RJD leader and former Bihar Assembly speaker Uday Narayan Choudhary on Monday said that if Nitish Kumar quits NDA and makes Tejashwi Yadav the chief minister, the Opposition will “try to project the JD(U) chief as the PM candidate” for 2024 Lok Sabha polls”.

Maintaining that they are keeping a close eye on the developments in Bihar, senior RJD leaders said it is “clear that the BJP is asserting its authority” over Nitish Kumar in the Bihar alliance as well.

Meanwhile, a day after the JD(U) accused BJP of not following the coalition dharma after six of its MLAs in Arunachal Pradesh defected to the saffron party and rejected any possibility of an “anti-love jihad” law in Bihar, the BJP on Monday seemed to get into damage control mode. Rajya Sabha MP and former Deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi said that the NDA alliance is “unbreakable”, and that Nitish was the NDA’s “natural choice” for the Bihar CM post even though “he did not want to become the Chief Minister”.

Talking to reporters on the sidelines of an event, Sushil Modi said, “Nitish Kumar is right in saying that he did not want to become CM. But NDA wanted him to take up the job. He was our natural choice for the post, we had projected him as the NDA CM face.”

In a week of significant political developments in Bihar, R C P Singh has taken over as JD(U) national president from Nitish Kumar, while senior leaders like KC Tyagi have called the move in Arunachal Pradesh as against coalition dharma, senior JD(U) leaders have admitted that a “trust deficit exists that cannot be denied”.

Nitish under pressure

Nitish Kumar has been under pressure from the saffron party for a while. Before the Arunachal Pradesh incident, the Bihar CM and JD(U) chief, was targeted for deteriorating law and order situation in the state and asked to hand over the home department. This came on the heels of the JD(U)’s poor performance in the Assembly polls, and subsequent speculation of a rift among the NDA’s big partners in the state.

A senior JD(U) leader told The Indian Express, “If you ask anyone in JD(U) – and this was mentioned in the national executive many times – they will tell you that they feel that (LJP leader) Chirag Paswan was a proxy of the BJP, who led to our defeat in many seats. Now with this Arunachal move, the trust deficit has only increased…there is no danger to the government, but all is not well.”

A senior RJD functionary said that from the outside, it seems both BJP and JD(U) are “testing the waters”, but the difficulty is clear. “There is no way six MLAs can join BJP without them calculating that reaction in Bihar. The JD(U)’s response has been to call it out verbally, but actually do nothing. So the BJP is testing the limits…this is how the unease with the RJD started in 2016. So let’s wait and watch,” a senior RJD leader said.

Opposition leaders such as Shivanand Tiwari of RJD and Congress’s Ajeet Sharma have said that it is for Nitish Kumar to make the first move.

Another leader said that the appointment of R C P Singh is a sign that Nitish wants to distance himself from “coalition management” and insulate himself in government.

An RJD leader said, “If you look at Parliament, of all JD(U) leaders, R C P Singh backs BJP the most.” Asked about this, the JD(U) leader said, “That may be reading too much into it.”

Meanwhile, congratulating Singh, with whom “we have a very warm relationship”, Sushil Modi said the episode in Arunachal Pradesh will not impact the NDA alliance in Bihar. “The BJP’s alliance with JD(U) in Bihar is unbreakable. The Arunachal Pradesh matter has nothing to do with our alliance here.”

JD(U) national spokesperson K C Tyagi told The Indian Express, “We did speak our reservations against certain things. We still hold that BJP did not follow coalition dharma in Arunachal Pradesh. There was no need for it. We also made it clear that there is no question of any law on love jihad in Bihar… As for our ties with BJP, it is very strong in Bihar.”

Manoj Jha, RJD Rajya Sabha MP said, “Mr Nitish Kumar has been unrelenting in his quest for power. After exiting Mahagathbandhan he was running a very unpopular government, something which became adequately clear with JD(U)’s abysmal performance in the last month’s elections. But in spite of the poor mandate he decided to claim the chief minister’s post. All the organisational changes and the treatment being meted out to JD(U) by the BJP emanate from this contradiction. This is a clear signal that Mr Kumar doesn’t trust the BJP and the BJP will leave no opportunity to show him who really is in control. In essence, Mr Kumar doesn’t have any power or voice within the alliance. The BJP is secure in the knowledge that no matter what it does JD(U) will endure the slights and the insults. And ultimately, the people of Bihar will have to bear the brunt of this infighting and power play within the ruling alliance.”

Jha also said that there was “little to be gained from looking for consistency in the JD(U)”, and that they seemed to have chosen to be “weak and irrelevant.” “There’s little to be gained looking for consistency in JD(U)’s intentions and actions. What they say and do on ground is different from what they do in the Assembly and Parliament. They should accept their subordinate position in the alliance and also forget about making any gains by themselves in the future. As of now, like I said earlier, JD(U)’s lot is to put up with an overbearing partner who will leave no stone unturned to make JD(U) weak and irrelevant. It’s a choice Mr Kumar seems to have made,” Jha said.

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