Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is proving to be a consummate trapeze artist.
On Saturday, while meeting Congress
Vice-President Rahul Gandhi
in New Delhi, he said no to the latter’s entreaties about not pushing the 'grand alliance' in Bihar to the brink by insisting on the resignation of Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad’s son, and the Deputy Chief Minister, Tejashwi Yadav.
According to sources, Kumar told Gandhi that if Yadav is chargesheeted and arrested, he would need to quit the government. The Janata Dal (United) has reminded the Congress
of the embarrassment that the Manmohan Singh-led UPA government had faced over the issue of the RJD
chief’s conviction in the fodder scam.
However, Kumar also told Gandhi that he didn’t intend to support former Gujarat Congress
leader Shankersinh Vaghela.
The 77-year-old leader has recently quit as the leader of the Opposition in the Gujarat Assembly. Indications are that Vaghela is on his way out of the Congress.
A month back, a meeting that Kumar had attended discussed the possibility of JD (U) being part of a 'third force' in Gujarat. According to sources present in the meeting, election strategist Prashant Kishor was also part of the meeting. Sources close to Kishor, however, denied that the election strategist has been party of any such meeting where any alliance between Kumar's JD (U) and Vaghela was discussed. After seniors in the Congress
leadership resisted moves to have Kishor and his team strategise for the party in the Gujarat Assembly polls, which are due in December this year, the election strategist is helping the YSR Congress
in Andhra Pradesh.
According to sources, Vaghela had earlier sought Kumar’s support and also that of his party, the JD(U), to put together a "third force" in the Gujarat Assembly elections. The argument put forth was that Congress, under its current leadership in Gujarat, would be unable to defeat the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and circumstances were conducive for the emergence of a 'third force'.
The plan was to knit together an alliance with Vaghela, Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress
Party (NCP), the JD(U), Patidar leader Hardik Patel, Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani, and extreme backward communities’ leader Kalpesh Thakur.
However, Kumar rejected the offer. Kumar and other JD(U)
leaders conveyed to Vaghela that Congress, despite losing to BJP in elections in Gujarat, still commanded over 40 per cent of the vote share and no alternative alliance would be effective without the Congress
The Congress, Left parties and others are upset with Kumar for his nuanced support to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s initiatives like demonetisation, surgical strike, and the Goods and Services Tax (GST) rollout, but have increasingly come to appreciate his compulsions as well. There is a view in the Congress
that Kumar should not be pushed into a corner that might force him to break the alliance and that a compromise formula between him and Prasad could be worked out in the months to come to keep the Bihar 'grand alliance' intact.