Bihar’s politics has been in a churn over the last one week ever since rumours started circulating that Rajiv Ranjan, alias Lalan Singh, would be eased out as national president of the Janata Dal (United).
Though senior JD(U) leaders, including party general secretary K C Tyagi and Singh himself tried to scotch those rumours that had triggered a political buzz since early last week, the speculation came true when Singh was unceremoniously replaced by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar as the party chief.
The JD(U) national executive that met in the national capital Friday (December 29) replaced Singh with Kumar without offering any explanation for the change.
That set rumour mills working overtime once again on the reasons behind Kumar taking over the reins of his party.
The most popular explanation was that Singh’s growing proximity to Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Yadav had displeased Kumar. There was even speculation that Singh was trying to engineer a defection from JD(U) to the RJD.
But as it turns out, such rumours were quite unfounded. Nitish Kumar took over the reins of his party because he wanted to lead the seat-sharing talks with his partners in the ruling mahagathbandhan in Bihar--the RJD and the Congress. Also, Kumar reckoned that as JD(U) national president, his profile would get an automatic boost to the national level.
Kumar, and his senior party colleagues, were unhappy with the unilateral move by Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee--and backed by Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal--to propose Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge as the INDIA Bloc’s Prime Ministerial candidate.
Kumar, it is well known, has been harbouring ‘national’ ambitions and was the first mover of the alliance between all anti-BJP parties in the country. As an early proponent of the INDI Alliance, he expected to be made at least the national convenor of the Alliance.
Mamata Banerjee’s move was interpreted as an attempt to scuttle Kumar’s bid to gain pre-eminence in the INDIA Bloc.
After this proposal by Mamata Banerjee at the Bloc’s meeting in New Delhi December 19, the JD(U) leadership felt that Kumar’s status needs to be upgraded to the national level.
After all, Banerjee herself is the chairperson of her party while Kejriwal is the AAP’s national convenor. Other regional satraps also head their respective parties.
Another reason for the JD(U) leadership change is that Kumar did not want to leave very important issues like seat-sharing talks for the Lok Sabha elections to Lalan Singh.
The seat-sharing talks in Bihar are expected to be contentious with the Congress demanding ten seats and the RJD also planning to corner a lion’s share of the state’s 40 Lok Sabha seats.
Lalan Singh is not a political heavyweight and in direct talks with Lalu Yadav and the Congress leadership, he will not be able to safeguard the JD(U)’s interests.
The JD(U), which has 16 Lok Sabha MPs now, wants to contest from at least 20 seats. Nitish Kumar knows very well that if the JD(U) cannot bag a respectable number of seats, his ambition to play a major role at the national level in case the NDA fails to muster a majority will never come true.
That is why Kumar has eased Lalan Singh out of the party president’s post and installed himself there.
Kumar also knows that his days as the Chief Minister are numbered and he will have to vacate the chair for his deputy Tejaswi Yadav.
There is growing pressure from RJD leaders on him to step down in Tejaswi’s favour. Many RJD leaders have started speaking openly about the need for Kumar to make way for Tejaswi immediately.
Kumar felt that once he steps down as CM, he will be a nobody. The post of JD(U) national president will ensure his continuing importance and relevance.
Nitish Kumar also knows that the mahagathbandhan in Bihar is headed for difficult times. Many RJD leaders are unhappy with the predominance of the JD(U) and Nitish Kumar in the state’s administration.
Nitish Kumar knows that only he can safeguard the interests of his party after stepping down as CM. And it is crucial for him to hold the reins of the party in order to be able to fend off pressure from the RJD to cede political space to his aggressive ally (the RJD).
However, Kumar’s takeover of the JD(U) national president’s post may not be able to ensure his continuing prominence in Bihar’s and the INDI Alliance.
That’s because other leaders of the Alliance, primarily Mamata Banerjee and Kejriwal, are determined to overshadow him. And the Congress is also unwilling to give him pre-eminence.
In Bihar, Nitish Kumar may well be facing a lose-lose situation. His position as JD(U) chief will hardly accord him any prominence in the state administration once he steps down. He will have little say in the way Bihar is run by Tejaswi Yadav then.
Politically, it is doubtful if Nitish Kumar can protect his party’s interests in the face of increasing political belligerence by his ally RJD. The RJD would like to split the JD(U) and get a major faction of Kumar’s party to merge with it.
Meanwhile, another development in Bihar has added grist to the state’s rumour mill. Bihar Assembly Speaker Awadh Bihari Chaudhury met Lalu Yadav at the latter's residence in Patna Sunday (December 31) afternoon.
Though Chaudhury said he had gone to extend New Year’s wishes to Lalu Yadav, there are few taken for his explanation.
Since Sunday, speculation has been rife in Patna about high-octane power plays in the mahagathbandhan with some sections in the RJD saying that Nitish Kumar is in two minds about continuing in the alliance and exploring options of reaching a deal with the BJP.
The RJD supremo’s meeting with Assembly Speaker Chaudhury (who also belongs to the RJD) is being interpreted as an attempt by Laloo to thwart a move by Nitish Kumar to break away from the mahagathbandhan once again and unseat the RJD from power.
Though JD(U) leaders, including Lalan Singh, vehemently deny any possibility of Kumar breaking ties with the RJD-led mahagathbandhan, it is clear that many political twists and turns are around the corner in Bihar.
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