Janata Dal (United) chairperson Nitish Kumar initiated secret talks with the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) for his return to the mahagathbandhan (grand alliance) sometime in the second week of July last year.
Kumar, who had long suspected the BJP of trying to cut him and his party down to size and sidelining him, had decided in June last year that he would break the alliance with the BJP and return to the RJD-led mahagathbandhan which included the Congress and some Left parties.
During those preliminary talks, Nitish Kumar’s emissaries told the RJD leadership that he (Kumar) had one big condition: that he be allowed to continue as the chief minister and the RJD should not attempt to subvert the JD(U).
Nitish Kumar’s close confidantes told Lalu Yadav, who had been released from prison on bail and was staying at his daughter’s residence in New Delhi at that time, that Kumar was ready to give a solemn declaration that he would never return to the BJP-led NDA.
That’s because the RJD leadership was initially sceptical of Kumar’s motives. Nitish Kumar is notorious for his U-turns in politics: he had left the NDA in 2013 and joined the mahagathbandhan in 2014, and then ditched the RJD-led alliance and returned to the NDA in 2017.
When Nitish Kumar was told about the RJD leadership’s doubts, he conveyed to Lalu Yadav that his break with the BJP was permanent.
The RJD leadership, especially Lalu Yadav and his son Tejaswi, were very happy at the prospect of getting back to power after being defeated in the 2020 Assembly polls. They had resigned themselves to being in the opposition till 2025, and the unexpected turn of events elated them.
Lalu Yadav’s pre-condition:
But Lalu Yadav reportedly laid down a firm condition for the JD(U)’s return to the mahagathbandhan. “Laluji told Nitish Kumar’s emissaries that he would allow Kumar to continue as chief minister after he snaps ties with the BJP, but only for a year. After that, Kumar would have to make way for Tejaswi and the 2025 Assembly elections would be fought with Tejaswi as the chief minister of the mahagathbandhan government,” a close associate of Lalu Yadav told Swarajya.
Nitish Kumar’s reluctance
Kumar was reluctant to agree to that condition, and for good reason. Nitish Kumar knew that giving up the CM’s post would mean retirement from active politics for him.
And without him as the chief minister, he would not be able to save his party from disintegration. After all, explained political analyst Yogendra Kumar, the glue that binds the JD(U) is Nitish Kumar and once the JD(U) chairperson becomes powerless, the chances of the JD(U) remaining intact are dismal.
“JD(U) leaders are in that party only because of power. They draw their power from Nitish Kumar and as long as Kumar is the chief minister, they will be beholden to him. But once Nitish Kumar is no longer the CM, the party will simply disintegrate because its leaders don’t share any distinct ideology that holds them together,” said BJP leader Ram Naresh Yadav.
Nitish Kumar also felt that if he steps down as chief minister in favour of Tejaswi Yadav, he will not be able to protect JD(U) ministers from being rendered powerless by the RJD leadership.
That can easily lead to disillusionment setting in among his party’s rank and file who may then join the RJD or Congress to protect their own interests or to continue enjoying the trappings and benefits of ministerships.
JD(U) conspiracy theorists turned Kumar against BJP
But Nitish Kumar had, by then, been convinced by some senior leaders of his party that the BJP was out to engineer splits in the JD(U) and ultimately sideline him (Kumar).
They managed to convince Kumar that even though the BJP made him the chief minister despite the JD(U)’s strength in the Assembly being much lesser than that of the BJP, it was only a matter of time before the BJP caused a split in the JD(U) and unseated him from power.
That, the conspiracy theorists said, would mean a permanent political eclipse for Kumar. Nitish Kumar, had long suspected the BJP of encouraging Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) president Chirag Paswan of fielding candidates against the JD(U) in the last Assembly elections.
Due to the LJP fielding candidates against the JD(U) and Paswan, a partner in the NDA, campaigning vociferously against Kumar, the JD(U) lost in at least 30 Assembly seats.
The JD(U)’s tally of seats came down from 71 in 2015 to 43 in 2020 while the BJP’s tally went up from 53 to 74.
The JD(U), which was the big brother in the ruling alliance in Bihar, had been reduced by the BJP to the status of a junior partner, felt Kumar.
Hence, he did not need much convincing by the conspiracy theorists in his party that the BJP was planning to break his party and unseat him from power.
Sensing Nitish Kumar’s reluctance to agree to his condition (that he makes way from Tejaswi Yadav by the end of 2023), Lalu Yadav offered a dream to Kumar.
Extensive conversations that Swarajya had in Patna with a number of top leaders of the JD(U), RJD and Congress who were privy to the negotiations between the RJD and JD(U) leaderships revealed that Lalu Yadav managed to sell the dream of becoming at least a deputy Prime Minister to Nitish Kumar.
Lalu Yadav convinced Nitish Kumar that if the anti-BJP parties take the lead in stitching an alliance before the 2024 Lok Sabha elections to take on the BJP unitedly, there is a good chance of the BJP being unseated from power.
Lalu Yadav deployed a couple of election analysts (one of them is affiliated to the Congress) to explain statistics from the 2014 and 2019 parliamentary election results to JD(U) leaders.
They (the analysts) made out the case that the BJP’s vote share in the last two Lok Sabha elections was less than the combined vote share of the UPA partners and some other parties in many constituencies.
Thus, they surmised, if all these parties (the UPA partners and the other parties opposed to the BJP) joined forces, the BJP can be defeated in 2024.
Once Kumar was convinced of that possibility, Lalu Yadav told him that he (Yadav) would back him for the Deputy PM’s post once the anti-BJP front comes to power.
Lalu Yadav conveyed to Kumar that he held a lot of sway over the Congress ‘high command’, specifically Sonia Gandhi. That, of course, is common knowledge.
Yadav promised Kumar that he would convince the Gandhis to make him (Kumar) the deputy PM in the next government.
Hence, Kumar need not worry about stepping into political wilderness after stepping aside as CM in favour of Tejaswi.
Lalu Yadav explained to Kumar that after having remained the chief minister of Bihar for so long, he deserved to play a major role in national politics and the deputy PM’s post would be a just reward for his experience and leadership.
Lalu Yadav also told Nitish Kumar that he would have to start working for Opposition unity right away. Taking the lead to forge a large anti-BJP alliance will strengthen Kumar’s claim to the post of deputy PM if the alliance comes to power.
Lalu Yadav said he would convince Sonia Gandhi that Kumar would have to be rewarded for his efforts in forging the anti-BJP alliance (which has now taken the name of I.N.D.I.A) and the deputy PM’s post would be a suitable reward.
Lalu Yadav promised Nitish Kumar that he would be made the convenor of the anti-BJP front and that would pitchfork him to the deputy PM’s post.
Nitish Kumar fell for this carrot hook, line and sinker. He had, for quite a long time, secretly nursed ambitions of graduating to the national arena and playing a lead role in national affairs.
Encouraged by his coterie, Kumar had long felt that his governance skills and leadership abilities would make him a successful leader at the national level.
It is a different matter that Kumar has not been made the convenor of I.N.D.I.A as yet. And there are no indications that he would get such a post.
Kumar did not take into account the fact that some leaders of other states, most notably Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, harbour similar ‘national’ ambitions. And they will do their best to stop Kumar from getting ahead of them.
BJP state president Samrat Choudhary said: “Nitish Kumar has been led up the garden path. He hasn’t been made the convenor of the rag tag alliance that the opposition parties have formed. And since the NDA will return to power, Nitish Kumar will have to go into political wilderness after being replaced by Tejaswi Yadav. He will then realise what a monumental mistake he committed by betraying the BJP. His days in politics are nearing an end”.
A few JD(U) leaders have started feeling the same way. But it’s too late for any regrets now.
With the BJP having shut its doors permanently on him, Kumar has no option but to stick to the RJD.
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