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Speculation is Rife about JD(U)-BJP Ministry in Bihar on Sunday, JD(U), Congress, BJP Deny

Speculation is Rife about JD(U)-BJP Ministry in Bihar on Sunday, JD(U), Congress, BJP Deny

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Manas Dasgupta

NEW DELHI, Jan 26: Even as the speculation is rife about the Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar yet again changing sides, both the Janata Dal (United) and the BJP in Bihar denied any such move and maintained that Mr Kumar though was a bit unhappy with the Congress was “very much in the INDIA bloc.”

Some sources close to Mr Kumar claimed on Friday that the deal between the Bihar chief minister and the BJP had been sealed and Mr Kumar was all set take oath as the chief minister again on Sunday with the support of the BJP which as its alliance partner would get two posts of the deputy chief minister besides other key offices. The two parties are also set to contest the coming Lok Sabha elections together with JD(U) as the junior partner.

The Bihar JD(U) president Umesh Singh Kushwaha, however, denied any such move. Refuting speculations about his party returning to the BJP-led NDA, Mr Kushwaha on Friday said the JD(U) and Mr Kumar was “firmly with INDIA coalition” but wanted the Congress to do “introspection” with regard to alliance partners and sharing of seats.

“All is well in Bihar’s ruling Mahagathbandhan and the media speculations are driven by some agenda,” Mr Kushwaha told reporters. He also said, “I met the Chief Minister yesterday as well as today. It is a routine affair. There is no truth in the rumours doing the rounds. We also reject the rumours that party MLAs have been asked to rush to Patna.”

The JD(U)’s political advisor and spokesperson KC Tyagi has been asserting that his party saw itself as “the architect of INDIA” and wanted to remain a part of the coalition though developments in West Bengal and Punjab were a cause for concern.

The state BJP president Samrat Choudhary also held a similar stand. Mr Choudhury, who met Union Home Minister Amit Shah, the party’s principal strategist, in Delhi on Thursday, asserted that his talks centred around Lok Sabha polls and had nothing to do with the speculation about the JD(U) re-joining the NDA.

“Our top leaders like Amit Shah and national president JP Nadda have said, in public, that the doors of BJP were closed. As a party worker, I abide by the stand. Nitish Kumar, to us, is a politician who changes his allies like clothes”, said Mr Choudhary, virtually running out any possibility of his party welcoming Mr Kumar back in its fold.

Sources close to Mr Kumar, however, maintained that Mr Kumar would be sworn-in for a seventh time on Sunday as the chief minister with support from the BJP, his on-again-off-again ally as the churn in the state’s political landscape spins to a conclusion. For its backing, the BJP will get two Deputy Chief Minister berths, which mirrors the deal after the 2020 election.

The Assembly won’t be dissolved, and a poll won’t be held, at this time, sources also said. Bihar will vote next year anyway, so it is understandable neither party is in a rush. The immediate focus will be on the Lok Sabha election. Both the BJP and the JDU have summoned, and will huddle with, their respective MPs and MLAs to close the deal, while Nitish Kumar met Governor Rajendra Arlekar this evening, for a tea party hosted on Republic Day every year.

Sources said Mr Kumar has cancelled all his engagements for January 28, including addressing a public meeting, sparking buzz he is set to reverse his 2022 jump from BJP to the RJD, which itself was a reprisal of his 2017 shuffle of loyalties. The sources said Mr Kumar’s return to the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance will follow a detailed game-plan that will begin with the nomination of an Assembly Speaker and include re-shuffling of the cabinet – one ministerial berth for every four MLAs – to accommodate BJP leaders.

Crucially, the terms of Nitish’s ghar wapsi are said to include a reduction in Lok Sabha seats offered to the JDU. In 2019 the party contested 17 and won 16 seats, but will have to settle for 12-15 seats now, given its weakened position – coming off this switch – and the need to accommodate other NDA partners.

Nitish’s BJP re-alignment, though not yet confirmed, gained currency after his former deputy (and close aide), Sushil Kumar Modi’s “in politics, doors are not permanently closed” comment. “Politics is a game of possibilities, anything can happen,” Mr Modi, said.

The BJP ghar wapsi has triggered mixed reactions from Bihar’s political players and, according to a second set of sources, a divide within Nitish Kumar’s party. Lalan Singh, deposed as the JDU boss by Nitish last month, is understood to be against dropping the RJD, while a group led by Sanjay Jha and Ashok Choudhary is pushing for a tie-up with the BJP.

The INDIA bloc has not lost hope, at least not publicly. A Bihar Congress leader, Prem Chandra Mishra, “I can say with confidence Nitish Kumar will remain with the alliance… (he) has resolved to throw BJP out and we trust him.” The RJD is also (publicly) optimistic; party spokesperson Shakti Yadav said the tie-up talk reflected a “scared” BJP and Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav on Friday spoke about the state government fulfilling its promises on employment.

Nitish set the cat among the pigeons Thursday – first snubbing an invitation to join Rahul Gandhi’s ‘Bharat Jodo Nyaya Yatra’, and then leaving the Congress-led INDIA bloc on edge by reaching out to the BJP. By the day’s end, he – credited with coaxing the opposition into the unlikely alliance – was closer to re-aligning with the BJP than being able to oust Mr Modi.

Sources said Nitish Kumar has been upset with the RJD for some time and blames his ally – which holds key ministries like Law – for impacting governance. He has also criticised RJD ministers for taking ‘important decisions’ without consulting him.

Mr Kushwaha, on the contrary, refuted all speculations about growing rift between Mr Kumar and Mr Yadav and also made light of the two leaders sitting far from each other at the Republic Day parade, asserting that “we are firmly with INDIA coalition.” Mr Kushwaha, however, said, “We want the Congress, which is our alliance partner, to do some introspection with regard to its stance towards other constituents and sharing of seats. Our leader Nitish Kumar has for long been stressing on the need for early finalisation of seat-sharing deal so that we could concentrate on Lok Sabha polls.”

To a pointed query about his party’s return to the NDA, which it had junked less than two years ago, the JD(U) leader said, “these are rumours spread by those with some agenda.” Mr Kushwaha was also asked about social media posts of Rohini Acharya, daughter of RJD supremo Lalu Prasad, in which she appeared to have taken a swipe at Kumar. The JD(U) leader replied, “We take no notice of that because Rohini Acharya is not an RJD office-bearer.”

Meanwhile, when asked about the delay in seat-sharing in the opposition bloc INDIA, state Congress president Akhilesh Prasad Singh asked, “why nobody asks about the BJP-led NDA? They, too are yet to sort out sharing of seats with allies.” Replying to another query, he said, “Nitish Kumar is our leader in Bihar. I have no idea from where rumours of his going back to NDA have emanated.”

 

 

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