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Tuesday, September 27, 2022

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Express Sunday Story: The Bihar Handshake

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There’s one thing about Nitish Kumar and the quantity 7. As Chief Minister, he has been staying at 7, Circular Road, whereas utilizing 1, Anne Marg, the official CM residence, as his workplace. Now, with Nitish severing his five-year-old alliance with the BJP and strolling over to the Mahagathbandhan camp, many level out {that a} well-known Delhi deal with — 7, Lok Kalyan Marg, the official residence of the Prime Minister — may very well be on his thoughts. After all, as he left the NDA, Nitish despatched out a political dare, couched as prophesy, to the present occupant of seven, Lok Kalyan: “Jo 2014 me aaye the, 2024 me aayenge kya (the one who came to power in 2014, would he also return in 2014)?”

Though there was a lot discuss Nitish’s rising discomfort with an “overbearing” BJP, the stark message to have emerged out of Nitish’s newest U-turn is his rekindled nationwide ambition. Though he hasn’t spoken overtly about his PM hopes and continues to speak about “serving” Bihar, quickly after taking oath as Chief Minister for a report eighth time, Nitish had urged all Opposition events to start out making ready for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. JD(U) sources trace he could quickly begin touring different states to discover the probabilities of a broader nationwide coalition to tackle the BJP within the 2024 elections.

JD(U) nationwide spokesperson Okay C Tyagi informed The Sunday Express, “We have been getting a very positive response (about Nitish Kumar walking out of the NDA). Just the thought of Nitish playing an important role in national politics looks exciting. It is too early to say, but Nitish Kumar has recharged the Opposition.”

Saying the Mahagathbandhan, an alliance of seven events that has the JD(U), RJD and Congress, in addition to different smaller events, may “offer a template for a national opposition against the BJP”, one other high JD(U) chief mentioned, “Bihar has been the factory of political experiments and coalitions. The BJP is now up against a tough Opposition in Bihar. Who knows, there might be a strong Opposition at the national level too?”

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JD(U) sources level out that Nitish has little left to show in state politics. He is credited with turning round Bihar’s fortunes after its lengthy years of decay and for constructing a formidable social coalition constructed round ladies and the extraordinarily backward lessons amongst OBCs. He can be the state’s longest-serving CM, having damaged the report of 16 years held by Dr Srikrishna Singh, Bihar’s first CM and earlier its state premier. As an in depth Nitish aide says, “Arre, ab to deputy PM aur PM hi bacha hai na (now only the posts of deputy PM and PM are left to be achieved).”

But these sceptical of a bigger nationwide function for Nitish or the opportunity of him being the Opposition’s joint face towards Modi level to his “paltu ram” picture, the consummate politician who has swung between camps with the convenience of a trapeze artiste.

Nitish, who joined arms with the BJP in 1995, first give up the NDA in 2013, within the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections, when it turned clear that Narendra Modi could be the prime ministerial candidate. Though he didn’t overtly pitch himself for the publish, he was evidently uneasy about Modi’s rising profile. When he lastly parted methods with the BJP in 2013, it was on the bottom that the NDA ought to have a pacesetter with a “clean and secular image”.

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Then, within the run-up to the 2015 polls, Nitish did the unthinkable by becoming a member of arms along with his outdated socialist fellow-traveller and later foe, Lalu Prasad’s RJD. In the elections that 12 months, held two years after Nitish give up the NDA, the coalition received 178 seats, with the BJP diminished to 53 seats. Nitish had discovered his candy revenge towards Modi.

Barely two years later, in 2017, he snapped ties with the RJD citing his no-corruption plank because the CBI booked RJD chief and now his Deputy CM, Tejashwi Yadav, within the IRCTC case.

Now, 5 years since he left the Mahagathbandhan camp, Nitish is again, rallying the Opposition to arrange for the 2024 polls and ruing his time within the BJP. Another somersault, but Nitish had managed a clear touchdown — displaying no unease concerning the contradictions inherent in his strikes. The Nitish of 2022 had clearly travelled a good distance from the Nitish of 2017.

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For somebody who would usually discuss of the “triple Cs” of crime, corruption and communalism” because the guiding rules of his governance mannequin, Nitish, when requested if ‘corruption’ was now not a difficulty, didn’t bat an eyelid when he mentioned, Tejashwi by his aspect, “Very much so. We cannot compromise on corruption.”

JD(U) nationwide president Rajiv Ranjan Singh a.ok.a. Lalan Singh too defended the occasion’s determination to return to the RJD regardless of its strident stand on corruption, saying, “It has been five years since the IRCTC case. There is hardly any movement in it. It is nothing but an act of political vendetta.”

Nitish’s final stint within the Mahagathbandhan camp was something however clean. Only a couple of months into the association, the stress had began exhibiting, with the JD(U) accusing the RJD of interference. Nitish was now not the final phrase in issues of governance, as he had been within the NDA. While the BJP had no sturdy state chief to match Nitish’s charisma, right here within the Mahagathbandhan, he needed to share area and highlight with Lalu and household. The RJD chief’s fixed reference to Nitish as “chhote bhai (younger brother)” can be believed to have rankled Nitish.

All that, JD(U) sources insist, is behind them now. Nitish and Tejashwi have reportedly labored out a working association. Tejashwi has already been granted Z-plus safety, a perk Nitish’s deputies within the BJP — Sushil Kumar Modi, Tarkishore Prasad and Renu Devi — by no means loved.

Sushil Modi not too long ago mentioned, “I was deputy CM for over 12 years, yet the government didn’t feel the need to give me a bullet-proof vehicle or Z-plus security.”

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Nitish, who by all accounts felt “suffocated” within the BJP, believes he’s now his personal man — that his 71 years and record-breaking stint as CM have outfitted him to deal with a younger and bold Tejashwi and deal with the pulls and pressures of the RJD.

Nitish would additionally need to make sure that the RJD and its overtly Yadav picture don’t postpone his personal core vote base — ladies and EBCs. Sources say that this time round, the RJD is on the identical web page because the JD(U) because it seeks to develop past its Muslim-Yadav vote base, a shift that’s prone to mirror in Tejashwi’s alternative of ministers too.

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Nitish’s rising discomfort with the BJP had additionally sprung from his occasion’s shrinking footprint. In the 2020 elections to the 243-member Assembly, which the JD(U) contested as a part of the NDA, the occasion had shrunk to 43 seats from its earlier tally of 71 whereas the BJP’s had elevated from 53 to 74. The RJD had ended up as the one largest occasion that 12 months, profitable 75 seats whereas the Congress received 19 and Left events 16. Nitish, sources say, now believes his occasion has a greater probability exterior the NDA.

JD(U) leaders level to J P Nadda’s assertion, made on the BJP’s current nationwide govt in Hyderabad, the place he questioned the way forward for regional and dynastic events, to say that Nitish’s fear isn’t misplaced: that any extended association with the BJP may find yourself diminishing the JD(U)’s affect within the state.

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JD(U) president Lalan Singh informed The Indian Express: “How can J P Nadda say regional parties will be finished? The BJP tries to gobble up its allies. We called their bluff.”

His critics within the BJP, nevertheless, say Nitish wanted the BJP as a lot because it wanted him. “We have seen leaders like Mulayam Singh Yadav, Mayawati, Mamata Banerjee and Navin Patnaik who can win polls on their own. But here is Nitish Kumar who needs others to win. We dare him to contest alone if he thinks he is so experienced. What he did is politically immoral,” mentioned former Union minister and BJP Patna Saheb MP Ravi Shankar Prasad.

Morality apart, even the staunchest of Nitish’s critics would agree that he’s enjoying the lengthy recreation.

One lasting picture of the Grand Alliance 2.Zero is the Nitish-Tejashwi hug. It is a half-embrace, like Nitish is wont to — he seldom does a full embrace.

Tejashwi 2.0

NOT LONG in the past, in his sharpest assault on Tejashwi Yadav until date, Nitish Kumar talked about his lengthy association with Tejashwi’s father Lalu Prasad, including: “I often keep quiet because he is the son of my brother-like friend.”

The comment within the Assembly by Nitish adopted then Leader of Opposition Tejashwi’s cost towards him of “plagiarism and payment of a fine of Rs 25,000”.

As the saying goes, there aren’t any everlasting mates or enemies in politics, solely everlasting pursuits. And then there may be Bihar. A state the place one JP Movement would spark sufficient leaders — together with Nitish and Lalu — to upturn its personal and nationwide politics, and the place politics has revolved across the identical faces for many years since. The former comrades are generally mates, generally enemies, however at all times round.

With Tejashwi’s return to his ‘Chacha’ Nitish as Deputy CM, that’s set to proceed.

But if Nitish’s somersaults have come to shock few, it’s the new Tejashwi who made this newest turnaround doable.

Observers say that is the prime purpose Mahagath-bandhan 2022 is in contrast to Mahagathbandhan 2015, and extra prone to survive. In 2015, Tejashwi was 27 and a rookie MLA, whose promotion to Deputy CM was seen as a nod to father Lalu. It was additionally towards the backdrop of a household tussle for energy, which had not been settled until then.

Now he involves the alliance as a pacesetter in his personal proper, having led the RJD to single-largest occasion within the 2020 Assembly elections, shouldering the burden of the marketing campaign as sickness and jail sidelined Lalu. Brother Tej Pratap Yadav is now firmly in Tejashwi’s shadow, ready hopefully for at the least a ministerial portfolio.

Showing willingness to take cost, Tejashwi didn’t even put Lalu’s photographs prominently within the 2020 marketing campaign materials, and went past his father’s examined slogans of “social justice” and “secularism”. His principal guarantees have been “10 lakh jobs” and “economic justice”.

When the RJD ended in need of managing to kind a authorities, Tejashwi adopted his function as Leader of Opposition with all seriousness, sharp and spectacular in his assaults, interspersed with information and figures.

The RJD underneath him has a faithful ‘research team’ in addition to a political advisor in good friend Sanjay Yadav. Rajya Sabha MP Manoj Kumar Jha (a tutorial), RJD nationwide spokesperson Subodh Mehta and state RJD chief Jagdanand Singh are a part of his core crew.

The RJD has additionally been making an attempt assiduously to alter its picture from a MY (Muslims, Yadavs) occasion to 1 open ‘A to Z’. Tejashwi’s marriage ceremony to a faculty good friend, a Goan Christian, has helped sharpen that picture. The RJD chief has talked concerning the marriage ceremony having the complete blessing of Lalu.

At the identical time, Tejashwi has ensured Lalu stays very a lot within the image, taking his inputs on key selections. The determination to place apart what occurred with Nitish final time, when he swung to the BJP and induced the Mahagathbandhan authorities to break down, and re-align with him, was additionally taken after due session with Lalu.

Once Tejashwi would have resisted to this, occasion leaders say. This time, he didn’t want a lot persuasion to make the extra pragmatic and sagacious move.

The RJD chief, now 32, can be mentioned to be clear in his thoughts concerning the function he sees for himself in his second innings in energy. Including conceding to Nitish’s seniority for now, regardless of the RJD having nearly double the seats because the JD(U) within the Assembly.

Speaking to The Sunday Express on his priorities, Tejashwi mentioned: “It would be a combination of jobs, strengthening of the social sector, such as in health and education, and a focus on youths.” Providing 10 lakh jobs was “the top agenda and first priority”, he added. “Soon there will be bumper recruitment in Bihar. After that, we will move to incentivising job creation in the private sector, especially in the small and medium sector. I am glad the discussion on demand for jobs and employment is taking place,” the brand new Bihar Deputy CM mentioned.

On the BJP questioning him over the job promise, Tejashwi mentioned: “It is healthy for a democracy that people remember poll promises. They will now question the BJP on its endless list of promises… The BJP promised 19 lakh jobs, wasted almost two years of Bihar and did not create a single job,” he mentioned, talking over the cellphone from Delhi, the place he met senior leaders of RJD allies the primary time after the tie-up with the JD(U) was struck, together with with Sonia Gandhi.

Asked particularly how Mahagathbandhan 2.Zero was totally different, Tejashwi mentioned: “The RJD has always been accommodative in the interest of the state. Two, we have been accommodative in the interest of the country, state, people, Constitution, democracy and a united Opposition. The difference would be that we will work to show results in key areas in the first year itself.”

Whether Cabinet growth would mirror this lodging, a element being watched intently, Tejashwi mentioned: “Our party is diverse and so are our representatives. This diversity would definitely be reflected.”

However, the apprehension in lots of quarters of a return of Yadav domination goes past Cabinet, to fears that the RJD in energy means return of jungle raj. Tejashwi didn’t sound apologetic on the matter. “It is like crying wolf all the time. The claim is baseless and meaningless. Unfortunately, it is something that is perpetuated unquestioningly by friends in the media also. How is it that until days ago all was fine and within 24 hours the bogey of jungle raj is back? Their baseless allegations in the last 30 years have done greater harm to Bihar and Biharis,” he mentioned.

In what would possibly make Mahagathbandhan 2022 a smoother journey, there are indicators that the RJD and JD(U) have reached an settlement for Nitish to move on to the nationwide stage sooner relatively than later, leaving Bihar to his Deputy CM.

Tejashwi didn’t admit this, however didn’t hedge both. Asked if he noticed Nitish changing into a fulcrum of anti-Modi politics in 2024, he mentioned: “Opposition unity needs to be worked out on a priority basis and we will take part in discussions to present an alternative that people are desperately looking for.”

A senior RJD chief admitted to “long-term” objectives, noting that Tejashwi has the benefit of age with him. “In 2015, it was a matter of an erratic and unplanned frog jump. The JD(U) and RJD came together with the short-sighted goal of retaining power and keeping the BJP out. But Mahagathbandhan 2.0 is equivalent to a lion’s jump. A lion takes a step back before a jump. Ours is a long-term goal, thinking of both national and state politics,” the chief mentioned.

That mentioned, the true problem to the alliance will come quickly, on the matter of transfers. This had been an issue in 2015 too. This time, the RJD is aware of not asserting in a fashion that may make Nitish “uncomfortable”.

As for indicators {that a} shuffle of the playing cards was imminent in Bihar, earlier than Nitish and Tejashwi revealed their hand, there have been lots. But with few leaders of Lalu and Nitish classic or stature in Patna, the BJP maybe was ill-equipped to identify them.

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The first problem on which Nitish reached out to Tejashwi was the caste census, with each main a joint delegation on the matter to the Centre. Then got here an iftar occasion earlier this 12 months, when Nitish dropped in at Lalu household residence for the primary time in 5 years. At the iftar occasion he himself hosted, the CM pointedly walked out until the gate to see Tejashwi off, a second captured by an excited media. In July, Nitish visited Lalu at AIIMS, after he was airlifted there for therapy.

The very first thing Tejashwi did after taking oath as Deputy CM was to ask his enthusiastic supporters to not have interaction in overt celebrations however to get again to work. But the enjoyment was tough to include, particularly at Lalu’s 10, Circular Road Residence, the place the shadow of current circumstances, arrest of an in depth Lalu aide, and raids appeared to carry.

An RJD supporter quipped: “Let the ED and CBI open small offices at Laluji’s residence, rather than bothering the family.”

Tejashwi will move quickly although, to the Deputy CM’s residence at 5, Deshratna Marg. It is an deal with simply 250 metres down from CM House.

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