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Nitish Kumar Likely to Return to NDA Fold

Nitish Kumar Likely to Return to NDA Fold

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Manas Dasgupta

NEW DELHI, Jan 25: The Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar is believed to be again ready to play his own game of flip-flop, changing sides while keeping his chair intact. Sources close to Kumar said, he is all set to walk out of the “Mahagathbandhan” and join hands with the BJP before the Lok Sabha elections.

Even though the state BJP leaders and even the Union Home Minister Amit Shah, after Mr Kumar last time ditched the BJP and formed a ministry of the “Mahagathbandhan,” had declared that the saffron party’s doors had been “permanently shut” for the Bihar chief minister, the party high command is learnt to have agreed to reopen the doors for him and take him back into the NDA fold. For the time being, the high command has issued a gag order to the state party unit asking them not to speak any word for or against Mr Kumar’s proposed move.

The party sources said Mr Kumar had been feeling uncomfortable in the “Mahagathbandhan” for some time and particularly the Congress party’s slow move to seal the seat-sharing process with the other members of the opposition INDIA bloc to prepare for the coming Lok Sabha elections. The INDIA bloc’s overlooking his silent claim to be projected the prime ministerial candidate of the united opposition has also contributed to Mr Kumar’s disenchantment with the non-BJP parties.

The Centre’s decision to award Bharat Ratna posthumously to his political mentor Karpoori Thakur on the occasion of the socialist leader’s birth centenary on Wednesday may have also pushed Mr Kumar closer to the BJP. In Fact, the party sources claim that the Narendra Modi government’s decision to fulfil the long pending demands of the Bihar leaders for the highest civilian award for Mr Thakur, which was ignored by the Congress-led governments in the past, was aimed at cajoling Mr Kumar to return to the NDA fold.

The INDIA bloc appears to be unravelling as a third key leader, Mr Kumar looks all set to walk out of the bloc after the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal and the Aam Aadmi Party in Punjab have decided to go solo without making adjustments with the Congress or any other party in the bloc. Sources said it was almost certain that Mr Kumar in a last-minute U-turn, would the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections.

The ruling alliance, caught unawares, has been trying to pacify the irked Chief Minister. Sources said Lalu Yadav has already dialled Mr Kumar. The Congress, too, is trying to get on the hotline to get him to join the Bharat Jodo Nyaya Yatra when it enters Bihar.

For Mr Kumar, 72, this would be the fifth change of camp. Since 2013, he has been swinging between the NDA and the “Mahagathbandhan,” all the while keeping his job in the state intact.  He switched sides last in 2022, just three years after he had walked out of the Grand Alliance and joined the NDA. The signs have all been there over the last weeks, with the Chief Minister’s sharp comments on dynastic politics and the subsequent retort from Lalu Yadav’s daughter expanding the rift. On Wednesday, his lack of response to the Congress invitation to join the ‘Bharat Jodo Nyaya Yatra,’ put a question mark on his appearance.

Sources said Mr Kumar has been upset over the lack of clarity in INDIA bloc’s poll preparations and being passed over as a possible Prime Ministerial candidate. The delays to seat-sharing talks for the Lok Sabha polls had been a further aggravation. On Thursday, it turned out, Mr Kumar has decided not to join Rahul Gandhi’s Yatra when the marching group enters Bihar on January 30. Mr Kumar was one of the architects of the INDIA bloc.

The INDIA bloc could be struggling with internal turmoil is also reinforced by allegations that Mr Kumar took a swipe at the RJD chief over “dynastic politics,” a charge that JD(U) leader KC Tyagi today refuted. “Nitish Kumar was addressing a programme organised on the birth anniversary of Karpoori Thakur, whom he has idolised. Like all great socialists, Thakur abhorred dynastic succession in politics. This was the simple fact Nitish Kumar wanted to underscore. Nothing more should be read into it,” Mr Tyagi said.

“Nitish Kumar has no wish to condemn any regional party or leader,” Mr Tyagi said. “Those who think a dynasty is essential for the nation, are free to draw their own conclusion,” he added. Mr Yadav today asked the Chief Minister to meet him in what was seen as an attempt to pacify the alliance partner, sources said.

Mr Yadav’s younger son Tejashwi Yadav had taken over as Deputy Chief Minister when Mr Kumar broke ties with the BJP in August 2022, and rejoined the Grand Alliance (Mahagathbandhan), whose members include the Congress and three Left parties.

The BJP’s decision to honour Karpoori Thakur has been seen as a strategic move. Karpoori Thakur was both Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav’s mentor, and both had strongly advocated the award. After the award was confirmed – Mr Modi did so on X and hailed Mr Thakur as “a champion for the marginalised and a stalwart of equality and empowerment.”

Nitish Kumar thanked the Prime Minister and significantly also took a swipe at the Congress, saying he had petitioned every central government since 2007 (when the Congress was in power) and it was only the Modi government that responded.

For one thing, over 60 per cent of Bihar’s 13.1 crore population belong to backward or extremely backward communities, among whom Mr Thakur is still revered. Awarding his estate a Bharat Ratna will only help the BJP gain traction with this massive vote bank in a state that has 40 Lok Sabha seats.

 

 

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