Mahagathbandhan in Bihar on tenterhooks amid indications of Nitish returning to NDA

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Nitish Kumar offers 'jalebi' to school students during the 75th Republic Day celebration, at his official residence in Patna, Friday, Jan. 26, 2024

Nitish Kumar offers 'jalebi' to school students during the 75th Republic Day celebration, at his official residence in Patna, Friday, Jan. 26, 2024

Patna: The ruling Mahagathbandhan in Bihar appeared to be on tenterhooks on Friday amid strong indications that Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, the JD(U) president, may do yet another volte-face and return to the BJP-led NDA.

The trouble was out in the open when Kumar attended the high tea ceremony held at the Raj Bhavan here on the occasion of the Republic Day but his deputy Tejashwi Yadav of the RJD skipped the function. Kumar was seen exchanging pleasantries with other visitors, including BJP’s Vijay Kumar Sinha, who is also the leader of the opposition in the state assembly.

Emerging from the function, Kumar curtly told reporters that it was for Yadav and other leaders of the RJD, including Speaker Awadh Bihari Chaudhary, to comment on why they skipped the function. The only notable attendee from the party was state Education Minister Alok Mehta.

Neither Mehta nor any other leader of the RJD commented on the absence of Yadav, who is said to have gone into a huddle with close leaders of the party at his residence to chalk out a strategy to thwart the loss of power in the event of Kumar deciding to call off the alliance.

RJD national spokesman and Rajya Sabha MP Manoj Kumar Jha, who interacted with journalists, said "there is a lot of confusion which is not in the interest of the people of the state. Only the Chief Minister can put an end to the confusion. We hope he will do so by this evening itself”.

When asked about Jha's remarks, JD (U) chief spokesperson in the state, Neeraj Kumar shot back "our leader is in the Chief Minister’s residence as the leader of the Mahagathbandhan. There should be no scope for confusion. But if some people still choose to remain in confusion, we cannot help it”.

State JD(U) president Umesh Singh Kushwaha also refuted reports.

"All is well in Bihar's ruling Mahagathbandhan and the media speculations are driven by some agenda," Kushwaha told reporters.

He also said, "I met the CM yesterday as well as today. It is a routine affair. There is no truth in the rumours doing the rounds. We also reject the rumours that party MLAs have been asked to rush to Patna".

Kumar had joined hands with RJD, founded by his former arch-rival Lalu Prasad, in August 2022 after he severed ties with the BJP which he accused of having tried to engineer a split in the JD(U).

The longest-serving CM of Bihar, thereafter, embarked upon a drive to bring together all parties, across the country, to take on the BJP that culminated in the formation of the opposition bloc INDIA.

Kumar had also virtually declared Tejashwi Yadav as his successor, announcing that the RJD leader would head the Mahagathbandhan in the next assembly polls, scheduled in 2025.  This had fuelled resentment in the JD(U), causing a close aide like Upendra Kushwaha to quit the party, float a new outfit and walk back to the NDA fold.

However, signs of mistrust between JD (U) and RJD became apparent last month when Kumar formally took over as the party president, replacing Rajiv Ranjan Singh “Lalan” amid reports of Lalan's proximity with the RJD camp.

However, Lalan had insisted that he gave up the top party post on his own because he wanted to concentrate on Munger, his Lok Sabha seat, in view of the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

A Mahagathbandhan leader, who did not wish to be identified, said "it is not clear if Nitish Kumar will eventually exit the NDA, though there have been a number of issues on which he and his allies strongly disagree. These include his belief that the assembly be dissolved so that assembly elections are held along with the Lok Sabha polls".

"While the JD(U) hopes that early assembly elections will help it perform well, on account of the hike in quotas for deprived castes and other welfare measures, the RJD and other allies are reluctant to take that risk nearly two years ahead of the end of the Vidhan Sabha’s term”, the leader said.

Moreover, Kumar has also been voicing his anguish over the way things were unfolding in the INDIA coalition, in which he was not offered the post of a convenor until last month, when he turned it down.

Kumar has maintained that he has "no personal ambitions" while remaining critical of the "delay" in arriving at a seat-sharing deal.

Meanwhile, the BJP, which had till some time back declared its "doors closed" for Kumar, was keeping its cards close to the chest but dropped enough hints of his possible return to the NDA.

BJP's state president Samrat Choudhary, who met Union Home Minister Amit Shah in Delhi Thursday evening, said the discussions were around the upcoming Lok Sabha polls.

The BJP had contested the 2019 Lok Sabha polls along with JD(U) and late Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP. The coalition won 39 out of the 40 seats in the state. An OBC consolidation, in the event of JD(U) and RJD remaining together, would make Bihar a tough challenge for the saffron party.

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