New Delhi: The BJP and the JD(U) may have firmed up their relationship of late, but the regional party, headed by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, had been in touch with then Congress president Rahul Gandhi and RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, ThePrint has learnt.
Reliable sources in the JD(U) and the Congress confirmed that Nitish was in touch with both Rahul and Lalu between June and August 2018, in a bid to revive the Grand Alliance in Bihar ahead of the Parliamentary elections.
The argument in favour of the alliance was that if the BJP could be taken on in Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal (with the help of the TMC), which together have 96 Lok Sabha seats, the saffron party could be stopped from returning to power in 2019.
“In fact, Nitish and Lalu talked on the phone about a dozen times (Lalu was and still is in judicial custody),” said a senior Congress leader. “The formula worked out between the two was that Nitish would continue as CM till the 2020 assembly polls, after which Tejashwi Yadav would take over and Nitish would move to Delhi. Lalu agreed to the reunion but it was Tejashwi who put his foot down stressing that Nitish could not be trusted.”
Sources in the JD(U) indicated that there had been at least 20 rounds of talks between the party and the Congress regarding reviving the Grand Alliance.
“Let Nitish contradict the facts. At least one meeting took place in the official residence of the Bihar CM in Delhi,” a JD(U) leader told ThePrint, adding the meeting actually occurred in November 2018 and Rahul was present in it.
The JD(U) leader also said the move fell through because Tejashwi Yadav did not come on board.
The party has, however, officially dismissed suggestions that it held talks with the Congress and the JD(U).
“All these things are just speculation. They have no official sanctity,” JD(U) minister Shyam Rajak told ThePrint. “It’s like what one talks over a cup of tea.”
A fractious relationship
The JD(U) first forged ties with the BJP in 1996 and the partnership lasted until 2013, when Nitish walked to form the Grand Alliance with the Congress and the RJD. He returned in 2017 and the ties have not been the same since, particularly with the BJP now under Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah.
This was exacerbated after the Lok Sabha elections as the BJP, which won 16 of the 17 seats it contested in Bihar, is no longer content to play second fiddle in the state.
“PM Modi turned down Nitish’s request to make Patna University a central university from a public platform. Last year, when the Centre formed a group of CMs to look into farmer problems, Nitish was excluded despite being a former agriculture minister,” a JD(U) minister told ThePrint.
“More recently, disaster-prone Bihar got only Rs 400 crore for floods while Katnataka was given Rs 3,000 crore and even Madhya Pradesh got Rs 1,700 crore,” the minister added. “Nitish had high hopes when he rejoined the BJP in 2017 but he is being treated like any other ally of the BJP. Even after the Lok Sabha polls, the JD(U) was offered just one seat in the Union cabinet.”
The JD(U) minister pointed out that Nitish was quite unhappy as state BJP leaders repeatedly asking him to leave the CM post and move to Delhi were never pulled up by the party leadership.
This was also reflected in JD(U) leader and diplomat-turned-politician Pavan Varma’s letter addressed to the Bihar CM on 21 January. “I remember you confessing to me in private on how the current leadership in the BJP has humiliated you. You maintained, on more than one occasion, that the BJP is leading India into a dangerous space,” Varma wrote. He also hinted that Nitish had advocated for regrouping of socialist forces in the country and had even assigned a senior party functionary for the job.
Speaking to The Print Wednesday, Varma did not clarify the points he had made in his letter but said, “I stand by what I had written in the letter.”
Nitish, however, has hit out at Varma and party vice-president Prashant Kishor, stating that those dissenting can leave if they wanted.
Responding to statement, Kishor told ANI: “Nitishji has spoken, you should wait for my answer. I will come to Bihar to answer him.”
He later tweeted: “…what a fall for you to lie about how and why you made me join JDU!! Poor attempt on your part to try and make my colour same as yours!”
.@NitishKumar what a fall for you to lie about how and why you made me join JDU!! Poor attempt on your part to try and make my colour same as yours!
And if you are telling the truth who would believe that you still have courage not to listen to someone recommended by @AmitShah?
— Prashant Kishor (@PrashantKishor) January 28, 2020
Nitish’s reaction, however, is a reflection of the current state of ties. The BJP has moved to pacify Nitish of late and the JD(U) has been toeing the BJP line on a number of issues.
In October, then BJP president Amit Shah announced Nitish as the leader of the NDA ahead of the 2020 assembly polls in Bihar. The announcement had even raised eyebrows even among the state BJP leaders. “It was an announcement which should have been made after seat sharing talks not one year before the polls,” said a senior BJP leader.
The JD(U) has since then, however, been backing the BJP on a number of controversial issues, including the Citizenship Amendment Act.