Patna: There is a growing chorus within the Lalu Prasad Yadav-led Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) to reach out to Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and his Janata Dal (United) following its poll rout in the Lok Sabha elections.
A number of RJD leaders see an opportunity in Nitish and his JD(U) staying out of the Modi Cabinet and desperately want the party to patch up with the chief minister.
Among the first to propose such an alliance was former union minister and veteran RJD leader Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, who on 3 June appealed to “all secular parties, including Nitish Kumar, to join the Grand Alliance”.
“Every non-BJP party should join hands to defeat the BJP. Even Nitish should return to the mahagathbandhan,” Singh told reporters in Patna.
The following day, Lalu Prasad’s wife, Rabri Devi, said she would have no objection if Nitish returned to the Grand Alliance. “If Nitish Kumar joins the Grand Alliance again, we have no objection to it,” Rabri Devi was quoted as having said.
On Monday, the RJD national vice-president Shivanand Tiwari appeared to suggest that the party was even ready to play second fiddle to Nitish. “After the insult given by BJP to Nitish Kumar, the Bihar CM has a historic opportunity to lead the anti-BJP forces,” Tiwari told ThePrint.
The call for Nitish appears to be the result of some serious introspection in the RJD, which received a drubbing in the Lok Sabha elections. Not only did the party fail to win even a single seat, its grand alliance managed to obtain just a little over 25 per cent vote-share even as the RJD’s core votes of Muslims and Yadavs constitute over 30 per cent of the electorate.
To make matters worse, since the drubbing, the RJD’s allies have been blaming it for the defeat, while Tejashwi Yadav, who had spearheaded the party’s poll campaign, has been missing since 28 May. He is reportedly in Delhi.
The state Congress is demanding that the party should go it alone in the 2020 assembly polls, while the other allies, Jitan Ram Manjhi’s Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) and Mukesh Mallah, are already warming up to Nitish. RLSP chief Upendra Kushwaha has already questioned the continuation of an alliance with RJD and declared that it had failed to transfer votes to its allies.
RJD in the doldrums
The scale of the defeat seems to have shaken up the party. “The shift in our core voters towards the BJP is unmistakable and perhaps not reversible,” said a senior RJD leader who did not want to be named.
It’s a realisation that appears to be dawning on a number of RJD leaders. At least 20 of the 79 RJD MLAs skipped a party meeting called on 28 May.
“The numbers may snowball as the assembly elections approach as our MLAs are not convinced that they can win on an RJD ticket,” said a former RJD minister. “Apart from Nitish Kumar, there is no one who can stop this slide.”
In the absence of Lalu, who is still in a Ranchi hospital after being convicted in the fodder scam, party leaders appear to have very little faith in Tejashwi being able to get it back on track before the next assembly elections in 2020.
The RJD minister said that even if the party is able to cobble up an alliance, it will be under pressure to concede more seats.
“The fact remains that in the assembly elections, Nitish will be far more acceptable to Muslims even with his alliance with the BJP as the 2010 assembly polls showed,” he said, adding that the RJD was “leaderless” and needed a morale boost. “Nitish will be the sanjeevni for the RJD.”
Nitish ignores RJD feelers
Despite the feelers from the RJD, the chief minister is refusing to bite.
“The alliance with the BJP in Bihar is fine. We will be contesting the next assembly polls together,” he told the media after the JD(U)’s national executive meeting on 8 June.
Sources in the JD(U) told ThePrint that Nitish has other compulsions to not ally with the RJD. “Look at the difference in vote-share between the grand alliance and the NDA. The gap is almost 28 per cent,” pointed out a senior JD(U) leader. “In the 2015 assembly polls, this gap was just 7 per cent. It may not be filled even if we join the grand alliance as several sections of the weaker castes have been saffronised.”
The JD(U) veteran added that caste equations may not work in the next assembly elections.
“Even in 2015, a substantial section of extremely backward castes whom Nitish had nurtured went to the BJP,” he said. “Lalu no longer attracts votes from weaker sections and even for the younger generation of Yadavs, he is not an icon. The move to divide voters of caste line may not work as it did in 2015.”
For its part, the BJP has been ridiculing RJD leaders. “Who would want to join a sinking ship?” Deputy Chief Minister and senior BJP leader, Sushil Kumar Modi, asked ThePrint.
“The very reason why Nitish Kumar left the grand alliance in 2017 was corruption by Lalu Prasad’s family. The same condition still prevails,” said Bihar’s new Information and Public Relation’s minister Neeraj Kumar. “We ensured RJD MLA Raj Ballav Yadav went to jail a the rape charge. The RJD still gave a ticket to his wife.”