Patna: In a meeting in Patna Thursday, union minister of education and BJP leader Dharmendra Pradhan assured Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar that he would remain the state’s CM till 2025 and that the BJP will not do anything to disturb the present NDA set-up in Bihar, ThePrint has learnt. Kumar’s party — the Janata Dal (United) or JD(U) — is an alliance partner of the BJP and part of the NDA, which is currently in power in Bihar.
The union minister is also believed to have assured the Bihar CM that any Bihar BJP leader who made public statements against the Kumar-led government would be reprimanded by the central leadership.Pradhan and Kumar also talked about the likely reshuffle of BJP ministers in the Bihar government and discussed the upcoming presidential and vice presidential elections in the country, said sources in BJP.
According to sources BJP sources, Pradhan also assured Kumar that going forward, he would be the link person between the BJP’s central leadership and the Bihar CM — a role earlier played by the late BJP leader Arun Jaitley, with whom Kumar shared a close bond.
According to a BJP MLA, Pradhan’s visit to Bihar Thursday evening and two-hour closed-door meeting with Kumar — after which the Bihar CM walked him to the nearby state guest how — left many state BJP leaders surprised as most of them had been in the dark about it.
The union minister’s visit came amidst mounting concern among the BJP’s central leadership, following the result of last month’s Bihar Legislative Council election (in which the NDA won 13 of 24 seats, but the opposition Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) won more seats that the JD(U) alone) and the BJP’s defeat in the by-election for the Bochahan assembly seat.
“The impression that has gone is that the core voters of BJP are angry which led to the party facing defeat in Bochahan. The top leadership of BJP is quite concerned and conducted a damage-control exercise,” said a senior BJP leader.
Relations between the BJP and the JD(U) have also been increasingly strained in the past months. While there have been instances of BJP leaders in the state speaking against the Nitish Kumar government’s policies, such as the prohibition law, the JD(U) was also not part of preparations for last month’s grand celebration of freedom fighter Kunwar Singh’s capture of the Jagdishpur Fort from the British during the first war of Indian independence in 1857.
Speculations have also been made about Kumar’s possible realliance with RJD, especially after the Bihar CM’s presence at an iftaar party hosted by RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav last month. There have also been rumours that Kumar will move to New Delhi and the BJP will install its own leader as CM in Bihar.
The Bihar CM also skipped a meeting of CMs and high court chief justices in New Delhi last week on the pretext of the inauguration of an ethanol production factory in Bihar. Kumar has also moved out of the official CM”s residence in Patna — purportedly owing to maintenance work on the property.
Kumar and his BJP ‘friends’
Kumar’s relations with the BJP took a turn for the worse ever since former deputy Bihar CM and BJP leader, Sushil Kumar Modi, was removed from that post, and made a Rajya Sabha member in 2020.
The current BJP leadership in Bihar is widely perceived to have the backing of union minister Bhupender Yadav, with whom Kumar has shared an uneasy relationship since the 2020 assembly elections, owing to differences over seat sharing.
The JDU is convinced that Yadav played a role in getting Lok Janshakti Party leader and Ram Vilas Paswan’s son, Chirag Paswan, to contest independently against JD(U) candidates in the 2020 assembly polls, resulting in vote divisions.
According to sources, Kumar lately believes that Yadav is promoting his protege Nityanand Rai as the “CM in waiting”, thus undermining his authority in the state.
“Nitishji is so angry that he even refuses to take Yadav’s calls. Under Bhupender Yadav, BJP leaders making public statements the Nitish Kumar government have not been pulled up,” said a JD(U) minister, close to Kumar.
According to sources in the political circles, the BJP leader Kumar has been missing sorely is the late Arun Jaitely, who is believed to have played a crucial role in projecting Kumar as the NDA’s CM candidate in Bihar ahead of the 2005 assembly elections.
It was Jaitely who had also convinced Kumar to return to the NDA in 2017, after the latter had broken of the JD(U)-BJP alliance in between, said sources, adding that the relations between the two leaders transcended beyond party lines — the Bihar CM would make it a point to meet Jaitely when in Delhi, even when he was a part of the ‘Grand Alliance’ with the Congress and the RJD between 2015 and 2017.
After Jaitley died in August 2019, Kumar had a life sized statue of his late friend installed in Patna.
Now Pradhan — who had been the party’s Bihar in-charge in 2010 and has a good relationship with Kumar — has assured the Bihar CM that he will step into the void left behind by Jaitley.
“The BJP needs Nitish Kumar till 2024 and the BJP top leadership thought it was time for a patch up before the alliance reaches a breaking point. So they ignored (Bhupendra) Yadav and sent Pradhan who has a workable relationship with Nitish-even though it is not in the same level of late Arun Jaitley,” said a senior BJP leader.
A JD(U) leader recalled that “Pradhan never allowed state BJP leaders to belittle Nitish Kumar”.
‘Left in the dark’
Meanwhile, Pradhan’s visit to Patna Thursday took many in the state BJP unit by surprise.
“I came to know about it at midnight,” BJP MLA Hari Bhushan Thakur (Bachol) told ThePrint Friday.
Another MLA, Gyandendra Singh Gyanu, said he came to know of the union minister’s visit through the newspapers the next morning.
Even state BJP president Sanjay Jaiswal had to rush to the airport to see Pradhan off on Friday morning, as he did not have prior knowledge of the union leader’s visit, claimed another BJP MLA.
While a couple of BJP ministers, including Nitin Navin Sinha, admitted they knew of the visit, they added that they did not have access to the meeting between Pradhan and Kumar and were clueless about what transpired.
“Pradhan has very old ties with Bihar leaders, both in the BJP and JD(U). When Pradhan was BJP Bihar in-charge in 2010, the NDA won 206 of 243 assembly seats. The coordination between JD(U) and BJP was so good (at that time) that it was difficult to differentiate between the workers of the two parties,” recalled Bihar BJP spokesperson Prem Ranjan Patel.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)