NEW DELHI, Jan 27: Even as the stage is believed to be all set for the Janata Dal (United) chief Nitish Kumar to shift sides and take oath as the Bihar chief minister for the ninth time on Sunday, his present deputy chief minister Tejashwi Yadav reportedly told his Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) members that the “game in Bihar is still not over.”
“Bihar mein abhi khel hona baki hain,” Tejashwi Yadav said at the RJD meeting as the party authorised Lalu Yadav to take a call on whatever happens in Bihar.
As a political storm is brewing in Bihar, parties are in a huddle to take stock of the situation ahead of Nitish Kumar’s much-speculated exit from the INDIA bloc. All mainstream political parties in the State held meetings on Saturday with party leaders and legislators in Patna. The political flurry followed Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s likely break away from the “Mahagathbandhan” in order to reunite with the BJP-led NDA amid escalating tensions with allies from the rival Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) bloc.
While the RJD with whom Mr Kumar had formed “Mahagathbandhan” government in August 2022, held its meeting Mr Tejashwi Yadav’s official residence, the Congress party is huddling with party legislators at Purnia where Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Nyaya Yatra is scheduled to reach on January 30.
Amid these developments, the Congress party has appointed former Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel as a senior observer for Bharat Jodo Nyaya Yatra and other party activities in Bihar. Dismissing rumours that some Congress MLAs in Bihar are in touch with the Janata Dal (United) leadership and with Chief Minister Nitish Kumar during this volatile political situation, Congress MLA Shakeel Ahmad Khan asserted, “All our party leaders and legislators are intact and solidly with the party.”
There were reports about the RJD trying to break the JD(U), the JD(U) and the BJP are alleged to be eying to get some of the Congress members to cross over to the NDA while the Congress was believed to be holding talks with the former chief minister Jitan Ram Majhi, currently with the NDA, to switch sides along with his four Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) MLAs. All the parties on the face of it have denied making any attempt to break the other party.
At a meeting of the RJD, the party empowered Lalu Yadav to take a call on whatever happens in state politics. Sources said Tejashwi Yadav told the meeting that Nitish Kumar has always been held respectable by the RJD. “Many things are not under his (Nitish Kumar’s) control,” Tejashwi said.
Mr Yadav indicated that many unexpected developments could take place. “The Chief Minister used to sit with me on the stage and ask, “What was there in Bihar before 2005?” I never reacted… Now, more people are with us. Whatever remained undone in two decades, we managed to get it done within a short time- be it jobs, caste census, increasing reservation, etc. ‘Bihar mein abhi khel hona baki hain‘ (The game is yet to begin in Bihar),” Tejashwi said. All the RJD MLAs have been asked to remain in Patna and not to switch off their phones, reports said.
The Congress said the party has been trying to reach out to Nitish Kumar. Mallikarjun Kharge called Nitish Kumar several times but Nitish Kumar was in a meeting, and when the Bihar CM called back, the Congress president was busy and hence they could not speak yet, Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh said.
Mr Kharge reacted to the speculations and said, “Are they (JD(U)) going out? I have not got any information about it so far. I have written a letter to them (JD(U) leadership) and have tried to talk to them. I don’t know clearly what is in their minds.”
Bihar BJP core committee meeting also took place on Saturday. Union minister Giriraj Singh said, “Nitish Kumar is still the CM and Tejashwi Yadav is the deputy CM.” Giriraj Singh said the BJP is keeping an eye on the political activities in Bihar. “Neither Lalu Yadav has said we have left, nor Nitish Kumar has said he will leave. What can the Bharatiya Janata Party say in this?” Giriraj Singh said.
BJP president JP Nadda met Union home minister Amit Shah where Lok Janshankti Party (Ram Vilas) president Chirag Paswan was also present. After the meeting, Chirag said, “First it should be cleared whether Nitish Kumar is coming to NDA and if he is coming, then the time of it.” Amid all this political upheaval, for Mr Nitish Kumar Saturday was business as usual as he laid the foundation of the second phase of development works in Buxar’s Brahmpur.
Mr Kumar’s close aide and JD(U) advisor KS Tyagi, however, changed his tune, from asserting on Friday that Mr Kumar and the JD(U) was “firmly with the INDIA bloc,” Mr Tyagi on Saturday claimed that the Congress repeatedly insulted Nitish Kumar. “Nitish Kumar never hankered after any position in the alliance but a section of the Congress leadership insulted him,” the JD(U) leader said. Nitish Kumar was named the convener of the INDIA bloc but he rejected it.
Tyagi claimed that the INDIA bloc is on the verge of collapse and added that Kumar could not see how the INDIA bloc parties could fight the “all-powerful” BJP. “The INDIA bloc is on the verge of collapse. The alliance of INDIA bloc parties is almost over in Punjab, West Bengal and Bihar,” Tyagi said the goal and intentions with which Kumar, the JD(U) president, succeeded in bringing non-Congress parties with the Congress have come unstuck. He also added that Kumar was “misunderstood.”
The RJD, with 79 MLAs, is the single largest party in the Bihar Assembly and helms the ‘Mahagathbandhan’ of the Congress and three Left parties apart from the JD(U). If the JD(U) pulls out of the Mahagathbandhan, it will fall eight members short of the majority. The JD(U) has 45 members in the 243-member Bihar assembly while the NDA has 82. A party or a grouping needs 122 lawmakers to form the government. The RJD, Congress, and Left parties have 114 lawmakers.
Nitish Kumar has jumped between the BJP, Congress, and/or Lalu Yadav’s RJD 2013, so much so that he has acquired the moniker “Paltu Ram.” After parting ways with the BJP in 2022, he had taken on the initiative of uniting all opposition forces to jointly take on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the ruling party in the 2024 elections.
According to leaders close to the 72-year-old Mr Kumar, the January 13 meeting of the INDIA alliance was the turning point. In that meeting, Nitish Kumar’s name was proposed as Convenor by CPM Leader Sitaram Yechury and endorsed by almost all leaders, including Lalu Yadav and Sharad Pawar. However, Rahul Gandhi interjected and said a decision on this would have to wait as Trinamool Congress leader and Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had reservations over Nitish Kumar for the role.
Amidst a flurry of activities, the Bihar government transferred 79 Indian Police Service (IPS) and 45 Bihar Administrative Service (BAS) officers on Friday. The BJP has convened a meeting to discuss strategies for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls, hinting at a possible alliance with Nitish Kumar. State unit chief Samrat Choudhary downplays speculations, but sources say behind-the-scenes discussions are on.
The BJP sources said the process of Nitish Kumar and the JD(U) breaking away from the RJD and officially aligning with the BJP is underway. Instead of Nitish Kumar stepping down, BJP eyes reshuffling the Bihar cabinet by replacing RJD ministers with its own MLAs.
At the BJP’s big meeting party leaders collected letters of support for Nitish Kumar from their elected representatives. The support letters, once obtained, are expected to be delivered to the Chief Minister’s residence by tonight. Nitish Kumar has convened a session of the legislature party at 10 am on Sunday. Reports suggest that he could join hands and officially stake claim to the Chief Minister post for an unprecedented ninth time, backed by the BJP later on Sunday.