NEW DELHI, Dec 29: Ending the speculations rife for the last few days, the Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar on Friday took over as the president of his Janata Dal (United) party in place of Rajiv Ranjan Singh alias Lalan Singh triggering barbs from the BJP over the manner of his “farewell.”
Nitish Kumar was unanimously re-elected as the President at a meeting of the party’s national executive held in Delhi on Friday afternoon soon after aide Lalan Singh stepped down, calling on Nitish Kumar to return.
Mr Singh, however, vehemently denied that he was forced to quit the party post and that he was disappointed. Speaking to reporters immediately after the meeting, Mr Singh shot down talk of a rift in the party, and said, “Anger? What anger? Why should I be angry? This is the first time I am hearing this word.” He maintained that the JD(U) was “one and will remain united.”
However, the BJP’s Vijay Kumar Sinha, the Leader of the Opposition in the Bihar Assembly, said “a self-respecting person” would never accept this type of “farewell.” “When the party and the leadership do not have confidence… there is no point in holding the post. He should have resigned earlier…”
Sources said Lalan Singh was removed because he was seen as being a little too close to the JDU’s alliance partner in Bihar – Lalu Yadav’s – Rashtriya Janata Dal amid talk that RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav, Lalu’s son and the deputy chief minister to Nitish Kumar, was being prepped to take over as the Bihar chief minister. Union Minister Giriraj Singh claimed Lalu Yadav had told him “… the JDU will merge with RJD soon.”
That buzz was dismissed by Tejashwi Yadav himself, who accused the opposition BJP of “planting stories” to destabilise the JDU-RJD alliance in the state. Mr Yadav’s reaction came after the BJP’s Sushil Modi – who was the Deputy Chief Minister till Nitish Kumar quit that alliance – claimed the JDU was spreading rumours about re-allying with the BJP to keep the RJD and Congress in check.
Officially, though, Lalan Singh told Nitish Kumar he wanted more time to focus on his constituency ahead of next year’s election. Mr Singh is a two-time Lok Sabha MP from Bihar’s Munger.
The change in the JDU’s top leadership comes months before the 2024 Lok Sabha election and speculation over Nitish Kumar’s prime ministerial ambitions in that race. The JDU boss was apparently passed over as a potential PM candidate for the INDIA opposition bloc earlier this month. Nitish Kumar and the JDU rubbished rumours of rifts within INDIA after that incident, when it was suggested the Congress chief, Mallikarjun Kharge, be the bloc’s prime ministerial candidate.
Sources have said now, though, that Nitish Kumar was unhappy with Lalan Singh as he failed to project his name. Publicly, the Bihar Chief Minister had insisted he had no such ambitions, and only wanted to unite parties opposed to the BJP.
Nitish Kumar becoming JDU boss also gives him greater public control over the party’s position on seat-sharing within INDIA for the Lok Sabha election, discussions over which he has called for often.
In the 2019 election, the JDU won 16 of the state’s 40 seats and the BJP 17. However, for Nitish Kumar to be seriously considered as a INDIA PM candidate, the party will have to win significantly more seats.
The swap at the top of the JDU, though, has raised eyebrows in many circles, with critics of the party pointing to Nitish Kumar’s mercurial temperament, specifically the manner in which he dropped the BJP as an ally in August last year. That was after the JDU fared badly in the 2020 election, winning only 45 seats, and Nitish Kumar returned as Chief Minister thanks to the BJP’s 74 seats.
And then there is also the 2025 Bihar Assembly election to consider, in which Nitish Kumar and the JDU will be most keen to see that they reassert their position in the state, and counter the rise of the RJD.
After the meeting, JD(U) chief spokesperson K C Tyagi dismissed questions on whether the chief minister may join the BJP-led NDA. “We are not joining the NDA,” he said. Another party spokesperson, Rajib Ranjan, said the office-bearers discussed the contents of the political agenda for Friday’s meetings. There was no discussion on any organisational changes, he asserted.
Before the meeting of office-bearers, Mr Singh met Kumar at his residence here and the two leaders later arrived at the party office together, a gesture apparently aimed at sending out a message of unity within the party.
It may not be just a coincidence that Nitish Kumar returns as the JD(U) president seven years after he first assumed the office in April, 2016, removing the then sitting national president Sharad Yadav. Nitish Kumar’s star then was on the rise as the man who had delivered Bihar to the UPA by a thumping majority. As talk that he was the alternative the Opposition needed against Narendra Modi was fanned by the win, Nitish got a reluctant Sharad Yadav to step down as party chief and replaced him – a clearing of way, of sorts.
Now with just months to go for the next general elections, the Opposition is even further away from an answer to Modi. As he drops hints, and waits, for the INDIA bloc to look his way, Nitish has gone in for a similar spring cleaning.
However, that’s where the similarities end. In 2016, Nitish stood tall having led the Mahagathbandhan, also comprising the RJD and Congress, to 178 seats out of 243 in the Bihar Assembly polls of December 2015. The BJP, which had stunned Nitish an year earlier in the Modi-wave 2014 Lok Sabha polls by getting 31 seats, fell to 53 Assembly seats from 91 earlier.