All seems to not be well in Bihar, especially for the BJP which seems to be facing a challenge from its alliance partner Janata Dal (United) led by the state's Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. In a sign that trouble could be brewing between the two alliance partners, Nitish Kumar has called a meet of the MPs and MLAs of JD(U) on Tuesday. The meeting comes in the wake of speculation regarding tensions between the two NDA alliance partners with JDU's top leaders claiming recently that the party is aiming at making a comeback as the largest political force in the state.
BJP-JD(U) tensions brewing?
Signs of tension started began to show after BJP national general secretary Arun Singh asserted that the party was looking forward to the 2024 elections, setting off speculations regarding the future of the JD(U)-BJP coalition in Bihar under the NDA. The party asserted that it looked forward to contest the 2024 Lok Sabha polls and the assembly elections a year later under the leadership of Nitish Kumar, a gesture apparently aimed at pacifying the JD(U) which has been sour over the saffron party’s domineering stance. The statements, made at a media briefing after a two-day function which was attended by Union Home Minister Amit Shah, drew sharp retorts from the JD(U) and did not go unnoticed by Opposition leaders.
JD(U) spokesperson Neeraj Kumar asked why the BJP was talking about 2024 in 2022. "The leadership of Nitish Kumar has never been questioned in the NDA. Why is the BJP making assertions which have no need," Kumar told reporters.
JD(U)'s national president Rajiv Ranjan Singh alias Lalan also responded to the statement and told the media that his party was working towards reclaiming its status as the numero uno in the state. He also blamed JD(U)'s setback in the 2020 elections when the chief minister’s party saw its tally crash to 43 from 71 five years earlier on "conspiracy" and said the party, one of the BJP's oldest allies, is working on undoing the setback.
There has been discontentment and anger amid certain sections of the JD(U) regarding the “brinkmanship” of Chirag Paswan, who then headed the Lok Janshakti Party and fielded candidates against all JD(U) nominees, many of them BJP rebels. There have been reports about JD(U) feeling slighted after the NDA invited Chirag Paswan to a meeting ahead of the presidential polls. Among the oldest associates of the Bihar CM, Lalan has since left for Delhi to attend the ongoing Parliament session, causing fresh turmoil back home.
An uneasy alliance
While the BJP has claimed its ties to Nitish Kumar and his party go back to 1996 when it was called Samata Party, it has also said that apart from Kumar, BJP did "not pay much attention to what others in his party say,” state BJP spokesman Prem Ranjan Patel said.
This, however, is not the first sign of strain in the relationship between the two allies. Earlier in March this year, the CM lashed out at Bihar Assembly Speaker Vijay Kumar Sinha during a heated exchange over whether a matter being probed by the government which has also been referred to the privilege committee could be raised on the floor of the House “again and again”. Kumar had accused the speaker of violating the constitution by questioning the government. At the time, the conflict between the speaker and the chief minister was seen as a reflection of the strained relations between the JD(U) and its ally BJP to which the speaker belongs. The duo have repeatedly been engaged in war of words and Kumar has reportedly sought his removal.
The discontentment became visible in 2019 itself when the BJP offered just one ministerial berth to the JD(U) in the 2019 Narendra Modi government. The JD(U) hit back by giving the BJP one seat during the state's cabinet expansion while reserving eight for its own leaders.
Kumar has also been a critic of the 'One Nation One Poll' simultaneous Lok Sabha and state assembly elections proposal endorsed by the PM himself during the 2019 election campaign. In August 2018, Kumar had stated that such a proposal was not possible, though he claimed to be ideologically in support of PM Modi's push for simultaneous elections.
According to a report by NDTV, Kumar has also sought greater control in choosing the BJP leaders that join its cabinet after BJP high command moved its veteran Bihar leader Sushil Modi out. Modi had been the deputy CM to Kumar for several years and is said to have shared his socialist background from the student politics days of Bihar.
What BJP says
The BJP did not join the fencing match with senior party leaders refraining from commenting against Kumar. State BJP spokesman Prem Ranjan Patel said that the BJP's ties with Kumar date back to his Samta party days and that the party has always regarded Kumar as the leader of NDA in Bihar.
“Please remember that after the last assembly polls, the CM was dejected and willing to step down but we insisted that he continue for another term in office since we had promised to the people of Bihar that he would be our leader no matter which party wins how many seats,” Patel pointed out.
(With inputs from PTI)