Patna: Bihar’s ruling coalition partners — the Janata Dal (United) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) — are sparring again, this time over the prospect of power transfer in the alliance from Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav.
On Tuesday, RJD MLA Vijay Mandal said, “We are confident that Nitish Kumar will honour his pledge and power will be transferred to Tejashwi Yadav in March itself. We do not have to wait for 2025 (assembly elections). It can be (done) as early as post-Holi (early March),” Mandal said to media personnel in the Bihar capital.
The reaction from the JD(U) was instant.
“We are not aware of any such (plan for) change of guard. If the RJD MLA has access to decisions made by the top leadership of both the parties, he should (also) state when the decision was made,” JD(U) spokesperson Neeraj Kumar told ThePrint.
The fresh row between the RJD and the JD(U) was triggered by a statement made by JD(U) national president Lallan Singh Monday while criticising Upendra Kushwaha, who quit the party this week.
Singh said that the JD(U) had not made any commitment to make Tejashwi Yadav the CM after the 2025 assembly polls. The statement sent shockwaves in the RJD in the light of CM Nitish Kumar’s public announcement last year that Tejashwi would lead the grand alliance in the 2025 polls, which was seen as a hint that the latter would be the CM if the grand alliance wins.
“My statement has been distorted. I had said that what will happen in 2025 will be discussed in 2025, and not in 2023,” Lallan said to ThePrint Tuesday, insisting that he had not contradicted Nitish.
He also maintained that the JD(U) will have an independent existence even after the 2025 elections, seeking to put an end to talk about a merger between the JD(U) and the RJD.
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A bid to create confusion?
Many issues are plaguing the JD(U). Nitish’s announcement on Tejashwi is said to have not sat well with most leaders within the JD(U).
The CM also had to quell speculation that the JD(U) would merge with the RJD. Upendra Kushwaha, before leaving the party, had repeatedly been asking Nitish to reveal the “secret deal” he had with the RJD on power transfer.
What worried the JD(U) more was the outcome of the 2022 bypolls, where the RJD retained the Mokama seat with a reduced margin. The BJP managed to retain Gopalganj even though it didn’t have the JD(U) as an ally, and it wrested the Kurhani seat from the JD(U), suggesting that Nitish’s core voters were deserting him.
Ever since Nitish joined hands with the RJD last August, political circles have been abuzz that he would eventually shift to Delhi for national politics after handing over power to Tejashwi in Bihar. But during the last six months, there has been little action by Nitish on the national stage apart from making appeals for unity among the opposition before the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
The crisis in the JD(U) has deepened with the rising clamour within the RJD for transfer of power before 2025.
“The situation demanded that we create confusion over Nitish’s statement to save our party from further desertion and also (retain) our vote bank, which is slipping away,” said a senior JD(U) MLA to ThePrint on the condition of anonymity.
The cold war
Lallan Singh’s statement has created a cold war between the allies.
On Tuesday, at a government function on agriculture in the state, Deputy CM Tejashwi Yadav arrived more than an hour late. At the same function, Nitish sat with JD(U) minister Vijay Choudhary, instead of the agriculture minister, Kumar Sarwajeet of the RJD.
In recent times, the JD(U) and the RJD have had public spats over statements made by education minister Chandrashekhar on the Ramcharitmanas and those by RJD MLA Sudhakar Singh against Nitish.
“These public spats create the impression that the Mahagathbandhan government is unstable. But we think it is a pressure tactic of the JD(U), which will have to negotiate with us on the number of seats for Lok Sabha polls,” an RJD minister said to ThePrint on the condition of anonymity.
While the latest row between the allies has led to buzz that Nitish may make another U-turn and realign with the BJP, the latter denies any such possibility.
“Let it be very clear that the NDA’s gates are closed for Nitish Kumar. He keeps his allies on the edge. That is how he has remained the Bihar CM for a long time,” the Leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Council, Samrat Choudhary, said.
(Edited by Smriti Sinha)
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