Nitish and Lalu Have Common Objective in West Bengal, Their Differences Notwithstanding

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Bihar Chief Minister and Janata Dal (U) leader Nitish Kumar and Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Yadav celebrate the grand alliance’s grand victory.

Apparently, RJD supremo’s release and return to Patna is not going to have immediate political ramifications in Bihar, but it is going to be a morale booster to his party men

Soroor Ahmed | Clarion India

THOUGH the granting of bail by Jharkhand High Court to Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad on April 17 and the ongoing West Bengal Assembly election are two different developments, yet Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is the one person who is keeping a close eye on both.

Apparently, the release of Lalu Prasad is not going to have immediate political ramifications in Bihar, where no election is in sight. But his return to Patna—obviously after he is discharged from AIIMS, New Delhi—will come as a morale booster to the rank and file of his party which under the leadership of his younger son Tejashwi Prasad almost won the last November’s Assembly election.

However, it is the results of the May 2 Assembly elections in four states and one Union Territory which is being closely watched by the Janata Dal-United, the main partner of the Bharatiya Janata Party in Bihar.

It is true the JD-U and the BJP are running government in alliance yet Nitish—no less than Lalu—would not like the saffron party emerging victorious after the Assembly elections. If the BJP really wins in West Bengal, as many in JD-U fear, it would amount to further weakening of the bargaining position of Bihar chief minister. An emboldened BJP may further twist the arm of Nitish, who is leaving no stone unturned to broaden his own base. After the last year’s Assembly election, he has learnt a bitter lesson and does not want to rely only on the BJP—as he used to do in the past. Many in the JD-U directly blame the BJP for the poor performance of the party which could win only 43 seats though it contested in 122 Assembly segments. They are of the view that the saffron party deliberately used Lok Janshakti Party leader Chirag Paswan for this purpose. Though it is also true that Chirag at many places damaged the BJP too.

In the last couple of months Nitish had wooed the lone Bahujan Samaj Party MLA, Zaman Khan, and made him a minister. Later the only Lok Janshakti Party MLA, Raj Kumar Singh, too joined the Janata Dal-United thus raising its number to 45 in the House.

In March, former Union minister Upendra Kushwaha merged his Rashtriya Lok Samata Party with the Janata Dal-United. Though RLSP could not win any seat in the last year’s Assembly election Kushwaha’s joining hands with Nitish would certainly help the latter broaden his base as the former commands some hold over Koeri caste. It is said that the presence of RLSP candidates had ensured the defeat of the Janata Dal-United in twelve seats.

Notwithstanding all these efforts Nitish’s party had only 45 legislators against the BJP’s 74 and the main opposition RJD’s 75.

As West Bengal has a long border with Bihar a large number of BJP workers, including ministers, legislators and other party functionaries are literally camping in that state.  If the BJP can split the ruling Congress in Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka in the last couple of years, breaking the Janata Dal United is no big deal.  If the 136-year-old Congress could not keep its flock together how can 27-year old Janata Dal-United, with little wherewithal of its own, can do so.

It was observed that Nitish Kumar did nothing to harm the poll prospects of Mamata Banerjee though several of his party leaders somewhat casually criticised the election campaign undertaken by Tejashwi for the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal and 10-party Congress-led Grand Alliance (Mahajot) in Assam. In private the Janata Dal-United leaders are wishing success to Mamata for obvious reasons.

Though Mamata did not send her March 28 letter to Nitish Kumar for the simple reason––he is in the NDA—her message was clear. The weakening of non-BJP chief ministers, according to her, would be against the federal structure of our Constitution. It needs to be mentioned that she addressed this letter to interim Congress President Sonia Gandhi and 13 other non-BJP party leaders as well as chief ministers.

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