Patnai: In what is being interpreted as a signal to the BJP, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) president Chirag Paswan attended an Iftaar party hosted by Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Tejashwi Yadav at his mother, former Bihar CM Rabri Devi’s Patna residence Friday.
While Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal United (JDU) is an alliance partner of the BJP, ties between the two parties have been strained in the past months. Rumblings within the ruling NDA in Bihar intensified following the BJP’s defeat in the Bochahan assembly by-polls this month, after the party forced Kumar to drop former ally and president of Vikassheel Insaan Party, Mukesh Sahani, from the cabinet. Paswan, the son of Ram Vilas Paswan, is also a former ally of the BJP.
The last time Kumar attended an Iftaar party hosted by an RJD leader was in 2016, when the RJD and the JD(U) were part of a ‘Mahagathbandhan’ government in Bihar. The party then had been hosted by former Bihar CM, and Tejashwi’s father, Lalu Prasad Yadav.
On Saturday, Tejashwi’s brother and Lalu’s eldest son, Tej Pratap Yadav was quoted by a news agency as saying that he had had a “secret conversation’ with Kumar at the party.
Both the BJP and the JD(U) have, however, downplayed the significance of Kumar attending Tejashwi Yadav’s Iftaar party.
CM Nitish Kumar has had an uncomfortable relationship with the BJP 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.
Once the unquestioned leader of Bihar BJP, Modi, has been mostly quiet on the politics of the state since.
Earlier this week, however, Modi broke his long silence on Bihar, to express concern over the party’s loss to RJD in the Bochahan by-polls.
“So many ministers and party MLAs were camping in Bochahan and went to each panchayat. Still, we lost by a huge margin. What is worrying is the fact that a section of backward castes and upper castes, who had been our supporters, voted against us. The BJP needs to review the losses and take corrective measures,” said Modi.
The current BJP leadership in Bihar, which is widely perceived to have the backing of union minister Bhupender Yadav, has been quick to refute Modi’s claims.
“We have already held a review of the defeat in Bochahan. The BJP candidate was called and we held threadbare discussions,” Bihar BJP chief Sanjay Jaiswal told ThePrint.
Modi’s comments have, however, drawn the support of many local BJP and JD(U) members.
“Modiji is right to point out the lapses of the party, which the Central leadership is unaware of. The caste support we have been making since 1996 is disintegrating. The upper caste Bhumihars, who hit the streets against Lalu becoming our core voters, have actually voted for RJD (in the by-polls). The fishermen community were angry with us because of the way we treated their leader Mukesh Sahani. It could have been avoided,” remarked a senior BJP leader, on condition of anonymity.
He added: “The Paswans are disillusioned because we have kept Chirag Paswan waiting. They consider Chirag and not his uncle Pashupati Kumar Paras the successor of Ram Vilas Paswan. All three castes were BJP supporters which we lost. On the other hand we could not add a single caste to our vote bank.”
JD(U) minister Sanjay Jha, a close associate of CM Nitish Kumar, also admitted to the relevance of Modi’s statement. “Sushil Kumar Modi is a seasoned politician. Very few leaders know Bihar better than him and he has had a long association with our CM Nitish Kumar,” he said.
The politics of parties
Meanwhile, Nitish’s already tense relations with the BJP, has only worsened in recent months. The Bihar CM was engaged in a spat with Speaker and BJP leader Vijay Kumar Sinha on the floors of the legislative assembly last month.
The JD(U) was also not part of preparations for a 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 are rife that the Bihar CM is trying to find an honourable exit to Delhi, leaving Bihar to the BJP.
“If that happens Nitish has made it clear that he would prefer old ally Sushil Kumar Modi as CM,” said a JD(U) minister on condition of anonymity.
In such a situation, Kumar attending Tejashwi Yadav’s Iftaar party assumes added importance, despite attempts by the BJP and JD(U) to deny any political significance of it.
“It has no significance. It’s wrong to mix politics with social events. Nitish will never rejoin the RJD. He did once and later he found that he could not be with them,” remarked Bihar BJP spokesperson Prem Ranjan Patel, optimistically.
Bihar deputy speaker, and JD(U) leader, Maheshwar Hazari added: “Iftaar is an occasion when political differences are set aside. One will find bitter political rivals attending it” pointing to BJP minister Syed Shahnawaz Hussain’s presence at Tejashwi’s party.
However, political observes recall that when Nitish Kumar first attended an Iftaar at Lalu’s house in 2013, it was a precursor to the JD(U)-RJD alliance in 2015.
For the time being, by attending Tejashwi’s Iftaar party, Nitish Kumar has sent a message to the BJP that he is not out of options, added the JD(U) minister quoted above.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)