The ‘Grand Alliance’ in Bihar ended on Wednesday when Chief Minister Nitish Kumar first dumped the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and then, by late evening, looked set to lead a government with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as the alliance partner of the Janata Dal (United) that he leads.
Within minutes of Kumar giving his resignation to Governor Keshri Nath Tripathi — who holds the additional charge of Bihar and had flown in from Kolkata on Wednesday morning — Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted to congratulate him for “joining the battle against corruption”.
Soon, several other BJP leaders, including Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, tweeted their good wishes to Kumar. The BJP Parliamentary Board in New Delhi decided to join a Kumar-led government.
Senior state BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi, who was Kumar's deputy when the two parties ran a coalition government from 2005 to 2013, said his party had decided to back the JD(U) leader in forming the next government and would be a part of it. Legislators of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) constituents and the JD (U) would meet to elect Nitish as their leader, he said. Kumar will take oath as the chief minister at 10 am on Thursday. Over a dozen leaders from the BJP are expected to find a place in the new government.
While the BJP and Kumar-led Janata Dal (United) were in the process of resurrecting their alliance that had ended in 2013, Kumar’s move, after over a month of tug of war with ally RJD, dealt a near-fatal blow to Opposition hopes that the Bihar experiment could be replicated elsewhere in the country, particularly in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh, to challenge Prime Minister Modi-led BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
It has also led to speculation within the JD (U) that Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah might even advocate advancing the 2019 polls in an effort to outmaneuver the Opposition and not give it sufficient time to regroup.
The Lok Sabha polls could coincide with assembly polls to several states in mid-2018.
The Congress, the third partner in the Grand Alliance, said its top leaders – party president Sonia Gandhi and vice president Rahul Gandhi – would talk to Kumar in a bid to save the alliance, but the rupture between Lalu Prasad-led RJD
and Kumar-led Janata Dal (United) looked final. After Kumar quit, Prasad alleged that Kumar was embroiled in a 26-year-old murder case.
Prasad said his RJD
was the single-largest party in the assembly and should be invited to form the government, but in fast-paced developments the JD (U) and BJP legislators sought time with the governor to stake claim to form the government.
Sources ruled out the possibility of a split in the JD (U), particularly by its Muslim and Yadav legislators, since the assembly Speaker is from the JD (U). Party leader and Rajya Sabha member Sharad Yadav, who has been a votary of Kumar keeping his alliance with the RJD
intact, remained incommunicado. But, sources close to him said it would be difficult for Yadav to support Prasad given the RJD
chief’s image of a dynastic and corrupt leader.
According to sources in the JD (U), BJP strategists had been at work to break the Grand Alliance for some months with an eye to reduce the challenge to their party in 2019. JD (U) leaders were in touch with top BJP leaders at the Centre for over a month now. After news that Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati could contest from Phoolpur constituency in Uttar Pradesh as a joint Opposition candidate, the BJP had asked sitting Lok Sabha member Keshav Prasad Maurya to not quit his seat since it believed Mayawati was sure to defeat a BJP candidate and this could boost Opposition unity. Maurya is currently a deputy chief minister in the UP government.
Kumar’s resignation came hours after the RJD
chief ruled out the resignation of his Deputy CM son Tejaswi Yadav over graft charges.
Kumar announced his decision to quit at a meeting of Janata Dal (United) legislators. Soon, he left the meeting and went straight to the Raj Bhawan in Patna to submit his resignation.
“My conscience pricked me. It became very difficult for us to continue in the current situation. We have made our stand clear on benami properties. I successfully led the alliance for 20 months and followed the coliation dharma until the very end. I never asked for anyone's resignation. We asked that the person must clarify on the corruption charges. There were no communication gaps on our end. We also kept Rahul (Gandhi) ji in the loop,” said Kumar outside the Raj Bhavan.
An angry Lalu Prasad
retorted by alleging that Kumar resigned because of “a pending murder case”. “Nitish Kumar has a murder taint on him. We knew about it but never highlighted it. He knew there is no escape from the charges, therefore he quit,” he said.
Prasad said Kumar was in cahoots with the BJP and the RSS. “See how quickly (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi congratulated him via Twitter,” he said.
Opposition parties said they would “name and shame” Kumar in the days and weeks to come. “Kumar has made a grievous mistake. The BJP would swallow him,” a top Left leader said.
Kumar’s JD (U) had ended its 17-year alliance with the BJP in mid-2013, when the latter had decided upon Narendra Modi, then the Gujarat chief minister, as its prime ministerial candidate. The JD (U), the Lalu Prasad-led RJD
and the Congress
had fought the 2015 Assembly polls in alliance to defeat the BJP-led NDA, a rare setback for BJP since its 2014 Lok Sabha triumph.