Ending months of speculation, and outright denials by his senior party colleagues, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has publicly acknowledged that he will be handing over charge to his deputy, Tejaswi Yadav.
Kumar, while speaking at the inauguration of a dental college at Nalanda on Monday (12 December) said that while he has done a lot of work in various sectors, whatever remains to be done will now be done by Tejaswi Yadav.
“I have been doing the work in all the sectors for many years now, and whatever remains Tejaswiji will get it done and will continue to do so. There will be no problem with that,” the Chief Minister said.
What the Chief Minister left unsaid was that this relinquishing of power on his part is far from a voluntary act. Kumar will have to do so, and the consequences of not doing so will be terrible for him.
That’s because one of the most important conditions set by Lalu Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) for readmitting Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) into the RJD-led mahagathbandhan (grand alliance) was that he (Kumar) would have to hand over the Chief Minister’s post to Tejaswi by next year (2023).
The JD(U) had joined the mahagathbandhan in 2014, but dumped the RJD unceremoniously in 2017 after Kumar levelled allegations of corruption against Tejaswi (who was his deputy then too) and returned to the BJP-led NDA. That created a lot of bad blood between the RJD and JD(U).
The RJD and the JD(U) have been bitter political rivals since then and had campaigned fiercely against each other, especially the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and the 2020 Assembly elections.
Thus, when the JD(U) wanted to return to the mahagathbandhan a few months ago, the RJD imposed the strict condition that Kumar will have to step down at least two years before campaigning for the 2025 Assembly polls start.
That’s because the RJD harbours a lot of suspicion about Kumar, and wanted to ensure that he has a limited tenure as Chief Minister.
There was another reason why the RJD did not want to face the 2025 Assembly elections with Nitish Kumar as the Chief Minister.
“There is a lot of anti-incumbency against Nitish Kumar and that will only intensify over the next few months. There is no reason why we should take the burden of anti-incumbency against Nitish Kumar on our shoulders during the 2025 Assembly polls,” RJD leader Balram Yadav told Swarajya.
Another senior RJD leader who did not want to be named told Swarajya that the distrust with Nitish Kumar is a major reason why his party made Nitish’s stepping down, in favour of Tejaswi Yadav, a precondition for the JD(U)’s return to the mahagathbandhan.
“Since we can never trust Nitish Kumar a 100 per cent, we don’t want him as chief minister when we start planning for the next Assembly elections in 2025. His image has also taken a beating and he cannot get votes for the mahagathbandhan. Also, our leader Tejaswi Yadav has to be given a reasonable amount of time to prove himself as the Chief Minister and for people to accept him as the CM,” explained this RJD leader.
The face-saver offered to Kumar was that the mahagathbandhan would project him as its Prime Ministerial candidate. The RJD, as part of the deal, also promised to use its clout at the national level to cobble an anti-BJP front with or without the Congress with Kumar as the leader of that front.
But of late, the realisation has dawned on the RJD leadership that the image of the mahagathbandhan will suffer the longer that Kumar remains in the Chief Minister’s post. The best way to beat anti-incumbency is to ease Kumar out of the CM’s post as early as possible.
That is why the deadline for handing over power to Tejaswi has been brought forward. From next year-end, this deadline was brought forward to the middle of next year. But now, it seems Kumar is being pressured by RJD leaders to relinquish his post by March 2023 or thereabouts.
That is why Kumar has started making noises about making way for his deputy Tejaswi Yadav.
RJD leaders told Swarajya that at least a couple of times in recent weeks, Nitish Kumar has told people in private gatherings that it is high time he steps down from the Chief Minister’s post and takes on a “larger responsibility” (an allusion to his aspiration to become the Prime Minister).
Kumar is learnt to have told people close to him that he will have to devote himself full-time to cobbling an anti-BJP front. He cannot do justice to that task if he remains the Chief Minister. And also that the natural choice for his successor is Tejaswi Yadav.
Kumar has, of course, been making a virtue out of a necessity. He knows he has to step down and cannot dilly-dally over that. He cannot afford to dishonour his agreement with the RJD and continue in the CM’s post.
That will invite retribution from an unforgiving RJD which won’t hesitate to throw the JD(U) out of the mahagathbandhan and into permanent political wilderness.
Kumar’s political managers also encouraged some of his party seniors to project Kumar as a Prime Minister-aspirant at the JD(U)’s National Council meeting held last week. That was part of the elaborate charade that will see Kumar stepping down as the Chief Minister to assume a ‘larger role’ at the national level.
It is another matter that Kumar’s dream of becoming the PM is highly unlikely to bear fruition. Kumar wanted to save his party from being elbowed into the sidelines by an aggressive BJP, and so he ditched the saffron party to join the mahagathbandhan. But this has only backfired on him and he now stands to lose it all.
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