How friends become foes and foes become friends for Nitish Kumar in the rough and tumble of Bihar politics
Nitish Kumar prevailed upon the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-LK Advani era to refrain from inviting erstwhile Gujarat Chief minister Narendra Modi for any poll campaign in Bihar. He also cancelled a dinner at the eleventh hour that he had organised in honour of senior BJP leaders who were in Patna to attend the saffron party’s national executive in 2010. He simply did not want the visiting Gujarat CM Modi to come, apparently thinking it would antagonise his Muslim supporters in Bihar. He also returned a cheque of Rs 5 crore sent by the Gujarat government for the 2008 Kosi flood relief work.
Nitish quit the NDA in 2013, ending a 17-year-old alliance with BJP after Modi was chosen to be National Democratic Alliance's (NDA) prime ministerial candidate. In 2017, Nitish restored ties with Modi by joining the NDA again but he has quit it yet again by joining hands with Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janta Dal (RJD).
Lalu Prasad Yadav
Both Nitish and RJD president Lalu Prasad Yadav entered politics through the Patna University Students’ Union elections and the JP movement in the 1970s. Nitish played a major role in first making Lalu the Leader of the Opposition in the Bihar Legislative Assembly in the late 1980s and later the Chief Minister in March 1990. But they parted ways in 1993.
Nitish went on to float Samata Party with George Fernandes and succeeded in ending the Lalu-Rabri Devi regime in 2005 in an alliance with the BJP. After breaking away from the BJP in 2013 over the projection of Narendra Modi as the prime ministerial candidate of NDA, Nitish won the Bihar assembly elections by joining hands with Lalu again in 2015. He, however, went back to the BJP in 2017. He has again gone back to RJD now.
George Fernandes was once Nitish Kumar's mentor, but after the merger of the Samata Party with JD(U) in 2003 and when Sharad Yadav became the party president, the chasm between the two leaders increased considerably. George was opposed to the BJP’s decision to declare Nitish as NDA's chief ministerial candidate ahead of the November 2005 assembly elections, but he relented after being persuaded by Arun Jaitley and Pramod Mahajan.
George contested from Muzaffarpur Lok Sabha seat as an Independent after Nitish denied him a ticket in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections on health grounds. George lost, but Nitish sent him to the Rajya Sabha and also shed tears in public on his death in 2019.
After defeating Lalu Prasad from the Madhepura Lok Sabha constituency in 1999, senior socialist leader Sharad Yadav’s stature rose in Bihar’s politics. After the merger of the Samata Party with JD(U), he became the first party president of the united outfit while Samata Party chief George Fernandes became NDA coordinator.
The differences between Nitish and Yadav arose when the latter went back to NDA in 2017. Sharad was against it. He went on to form a new party called Loktantrik Janata Dal which merged with RJD earlier this year. It was expected that the RJD would send him to the Rajya Sabha, but that did not happen.
Jitan Ram Manjhi
After its split with the BJP, the JD(U) faced a crushing defeat in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Nitish resigned as chief minister and made his low-profile minister Jitan Ram Manjhi the new chief minister. It was expected that the Mahadalit leader would act as Nitish's dummy, but he began to take his decisions independently.
Nitish had to struggle a lot to remove Manjhi. Manjhi subsequently formed a party called Hindustani Awam Party (Secular) and took turns in joining the grand alliance and the NDA.
One of the founding members of the Samata Party, Upendra Kushwaha was made Leader of Opposition in the Vidhan Sabha in 2004 by Nitish. But by 2007, they had fallen out. In 2008, his official bungalow in Patna was forcibly vacated. He returned to Nitish, but his Rashtriya Lok Samta Party fought the 2014 elections independently in alliance with BJP. He later became a minister in the Narendra Modi government at the Centre but after Nitish's return to the NDA in 2017, he resigned from the Modi cabinet and joined the RJD alliance. However, he merged his party with JD(U) after its poor performance in successive elections.
Digvijay Singh was an old ally of Nitish and was the Minister of State for External Affairs in Atal Bihari Vajpayee's government. In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, he won from his home constituency Banka as an Independent candidate after he did not get the JD(U) ticket.
Singh sought to give a new alternative to Bihar by forming a new front called Kisan Mahapanchayat along with other upper caste leaders such as Lalan Singh, Prabhunath Singh and Akhilesh Prasad Singh to challenge Nitish. But after a few months, he passed away in London. His daughter, famous shooter Shreyasi Singh, is currently a BJP MLA in Bihar.
Rajiv Ranjan Singh aka Lalan Singh has been one of Nitish's most trusted leaders since the early days of the Samata Party. He is currently the national president of JD(U). After RCP Singh incurred the wrath of Nitish, Lalan emerged as the No. 2 leader of the party.
However, when Lalan was the state president of JD(U), he had risen in revolt against Nitish by questioning internal democracy within the party. He was subsequently suspended but he tried to unsuccessfully challenge Nitish through Kisan Mahapanchayat. Within a few months, however, Nitish brought him back to the party.
Veteran Socialist leader Shivanand Tiwari is one of the few leaders from Bihar who had been close to both Nitish and Lalu.
Once a minister in the RJD government, Shivanand was sent to Rajya Sabha by JDU, but at the party's Rajgir session in 2013, he warned Nitish of the growing influence of Narendra Modi. His frankness did not apparently go down well with Nitish. Shivanand was not sent to the Rajya Sabha for his second term and was eventually thrown out of the party. Shivanand announced his retirement from politics, but on the invitation of Lalu, he joined RJD again.
Writer and former diplomat Pavan Varma came in contact with Nitish when he was India's ambassador to Bhutan. The Chief Minister of Bihar had then led a delegation of his state. A few weeks later, the 1976-batch Indian Foreign Service officer came to Patna after taking voluntary retirement from service.
Impressed by Nitish's development work, he expressed his desire to work with him. Nitish first made him his cultural advisor and then the party's Rajya Sabha member. After he was not sent to the Rajya Sabha again, Varma left JD(U) and joined Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress this year.
Prashant Kishor, who chalked out effective strategies for Narendra Modi's election campaign during the 2012 Gujarat assembly elections and 2014 Lok Sabha elections, oversaw the campaign of the Mahagathbandhan of Nitish and Lalu in the 2015 Bihar assembly elections. He was the brain behind innovative campaigns, including its promotional song "Bihar mein bahar hai, Nitishe Kumar".
After the Grand Alliance won a thumping majority, Prashant was made JD(U)'s vice-president and was seen as Nitish's political successor. Nonetheless, after Nitish returned to the BJP in 2017, their differences grew by leaps and bounds.
Prashant has since been travelling to the interiors of Bihar to gauge the mood of the people.