Even as Chief Minister Nitish Kumar seems to be drifting away from his allies in the Bihar coalition government, serious differences are said to have also emerged between him and his Janata Dal (United) colleague and party veteran Sharad Yadav.
Murmurs of a rift in the ruling alliance of the Congress, the Janata Dal (United) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal in Bihar have been doing the rounds for a while now and there has been speculation that Nitish Kumar is considering tying up again with the Bharatiya Janata Party, his long-time ally with whom he had split in 2013. However, Sharad Yadav is said to have conveyed to Nitish Kumar that he has reservations against joining hands with the BJP.
Moreover, while the Bihar chief minister had maintained silence after the Central Bureau of Investigation raided Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Lalu Prasad Yadav’s properties on Friday in connection with a scam involving the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation, Sharad Yadav was among the first Opposition leaders to call Lalu Yadav to express his support after the raids.
Party officials said the differences of opinion between Nitish Kumar and Sharad Yadav over aligning with the BJP is what prompted the latter to break ranks and defy a gag order issued by the Bihar chief minister asking party leaders not to comment on the raids.
The CBI has also registered an FIR against Lalu Yadav, his wife and former Bihar Chief Minister Rabri Devi and son Tejashwi Prasad Yadav, who is the deputy chief minister of Bihar, in the case.
Since then, the two leaders have taken a markedly different line on the corruption charges against Lalu Yadav and his family. Sharad Yadav’s remarks have been in line with the stance taken by the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress – that the raids are a political conspiracy by the BJP. “This tirade by agencies of the government which has been unleashed against many Opposition leaders is part of an attempt to break the united Opposition,” Sharad Yadav said on Monday. “But this is impossible. We will unite.”
A day later, Nitish Kumar, addressing Janata Dal (United) leaders in Patna, did not allude to a political vendetta behind the raids and instead hinted that Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi should either come clean on corruption charges or quit the state cabinet. “Those facing corruption charges should face the public and come clean on the corruption charges. And we are confident it will happen,” Janata Dal (United) spokesperson Neeraj Kumar reportedly told mediapersons after the party meeting at Patna.
Cracks in the ruling alliance in Bihar first appeared when Nitish Kumar decided to back BJP’s pick for president, Ram Nath Kovind even as the Opposition was yet to decide on a candidate. The Opposition later went with Congress leader Meira Kumar as their candidate for the presidential elections later this month, but Nitish Kumar stuck with Kovind.
Party officials said that Sharad Yadav has been in touch with Lalu Prasad ever since the Bihar chief minister extended support to Kovind on June 20. “After the CBI raids, Sharad Yadav’s rapport with the RJD leader has become even more firm,” said a Janata Dal (United) leader close to the party veteran.
This is not the first time that Sharad Yadav and Nitish Kumar have been at loggerheads. Sharad Yadav is said to have been sulking ever since Nitish Kumar replaced him as the Janata Dal (United) national president last April. The two leaders had taken different positions on the Modi government’s demonetisation move as well. While Nitish Kumar had publicly declared his support for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to scrap high-value currency notes in November, Sharad Yadav had defied the party line and had attended several meetings held by Opposition leaders to protest the demonetisation drive.
While Sharad Yadav’s dissidence alone will not threaten Nitish Kumar much, word is that a growing number of party leaders are also not keen on a tie-up with the BJP “What is significant this time is that Sharad Yadav is not the lone dissident in the party,” said a party leader. “A good number of JD-U leaders are not comfortable with the idea of aligning with the BJP, and they might start rallying round Sharad Yadav the moment Nitish decides to dump the grand alliance.”