Patna: Blame it on the reported conflict between alliance partners BJP and the Janata Dal (United) in Bihar, or on Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s image as a slippery customer in the business of politics. Even a run-of-the-mill move like the CM shifting out of his 1 Aney Marg residence in Patna — the CM’s official residence — to facilitate renovation work has created a buzz in Bihar’s political circles.
Kumar shifted out barely hours after he had a 15-minute long meeting with Union Home Minister Amit Shah at Patna’s Jay Prakash Narayan International Airport on 23 April.
An official press note released the same day clarified that the CM had moved to a bungalow at 7, Circular Road, as repair works were to be undertaken at 1 Aney Marg. But it failed to satisfy the curiosity of political leaders and watchers.
“Even the 17 cows of the chief minister were taken to the new accommodation. There is a separate cow shed at 1 Aney Marg, which is not part of the main building,” a BJP MLA told ThePrint.
The CM’s presence at an iftaar party hosted by Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Tejashwi Yadav Friday, a day before he moved out of the Aney Marg house, has added to the conjecture.
The bungalow at 7 Circular Road was Nitish Kumar’s address when he quit as CM in 2014 after his party received a drubbing in the general elections. Jitan Ram Manjhi took over the post before Nitish Kumar reclaimed it — leading a brief alliance with the Congress and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) — after the 2015 assembly elections. The bungalow is located next to the official residence of former CM Rabri Devi.
The speculation surrounding Kumar’s current move were so strong that senior leaders from both the BJP and the JD(U) had to step in.
“Rumours are being floated that the BJP wants to install its own CM and Nitish Kumar would be shifting to Delhi. Nothing could be further from the truth,” BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi told ThePrint, alleging that the rumours were being spread by the Opposition.
“The 2020 assembly mandate was for Nitish as CM and he will continue as CM till 2025.”
Senior JD(U) leader and MP Bashistha Narain Singh said he had a long talk with Nitish Kumar on 23 April, the evening he shifted to his new address. “We talked about strengthening the party. Our stand on the RJD remains the same,” he told ThePrint.
Addressing reports that Kumar has had an uncomfortable relationship with the BJP ever since Sushil Kumar Modi was removed from the post of deputy Bihar CM and made a Rajya Sabha member in 2020, Singh said that though the relationship between JD(U) and BJP was excellent during Sushil Kumar Modi’s tenure, it was not bad under the present state leadership.
Indispensable, but ‘unpredictable’
The present composition of the Bihar assembly is such that no government can be formed without the Nitish Kumar-led JD(U)’s 45 MLAs. The statements made by senior leaders have done little to build confidence among NDA legislators.
“In the case of Nitish Kumar, his left hand does not know what his right hand is doing,” remarked a JD(U) MLA on condition of anonymity.
Political leaders in Bihar spoke of Nitish Kumar’s “unusual behavior” before he leaves alliance partners.
In 2010, when the BJP was holding its national executive meet in Patna, a photo of Nitish Kumar and Narendra Modi, then Gujarat CM, holding hands at a 2009 Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) rally in Jalandhar appeared as part of a full-page advertisement in local newspapers.
Modi had become something of a persona non grata in Bihar after the 2002 Gujarat riots. Nervous about losing Muslim votes, a peeved Kumar cancelled a dinner he was to host for BJP leaders attending the meeting. He is also said to have considered breaking up with the BJP.
In 2012, while still a part of the NDA, he supported UPA candidate Pranab Mukherjee for the position of Indian president. In 2013, he left the BJP over the issue of making Narendra Modi the NDA’s PM candidate.
In 2017, he supported the NDA’s presidential candidate Ram Nath Kovind against UPA’s Meira Kumar, while still with the Grand Alliance [JD(U)-RJD-Congress coalition].
The month before, he skipped a lunch hosted by Sonia Gandhi and met PM Modi over lunch the next day. He left the Grand Alliance soon after the presidential election, to ally with the BJP again.
“On both occasions, he kept swearing that the alliance had a ‘chattani ekta (rock-like strength)’ just two days before he split,” recalled a senior JD(U) leader.
The need for confusion
A senior BJP leader, speaking on condition of anonymity, insisted that an NDA government in Bihar would not be possible without Kumar.
“Despite rumours that he would like to shift to Delhi, Nitish Kumar would not like to work under Narendra Modi, as another faceless Union minister. Also, no BJP leader in Bihar, even as CM, can control JD(U)’s 45 MLAs. Shifting Nitish to Delhi would mean complete chaos in JD(U) in Bihar,” he explained.
The BJP leader claimed that Kumar was intentionally behaving in a confusing manner to ensure his political survival, since the JD(U) was a junior partner to the BJP.
The confusion seems to be working for the Bihar CM.
Senior BJP leaders point out that Shah had no plans to meet Kumar during his Bihar visit, which was aimed at attending a celebration in honour of legendary freedom fighter Kunwar Singh in Jagdishpur. The request for a meeting over tea was sent after the CM’s visit to Tejashwi Yadav’s iftaar party. However, Kumar met Shah at the airport and not at his residence.
“There have been a series of developments that have led to speculations. The open denouncement of Nitish’s governance by BJP leaders (in recent months), the differences between BJP and JD(U) over the caste census and Uniform Civil Code, his sudden arrival at Tejashwi Yadav’s iftaar party… But it is very difficult to read Nitish Kumar’s mind,” said Shivanand Tiwari, RJD national vice-president, who had once been a close associate of Kumar, one of the founders of Samata Party in 1994.
He added: “When I was in JD(U), till the end we did not know that he would leave the BJP in 2013. Right now, however, I do not see Nitish Kumar leaving the BJP.”
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)