Opinion

Barbed Wires In Bihar Friendship

The Bengal election results have rubbed off on the neighbour, from the looks of it. Nitish is flexing his muscles, mostly through a proxy, and BJP is giving it back.

Barbed Wires In Bihar Friendship
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Like a bickering couple in a marriage of political convenience, the Janata Dal (United) and the BJP are at each other’s throats, betraying the unease and mistrust in their relationship that appears to be worsening since the two partners retained power in Bihar in last year’s polls. They agree to disagree on everything—take the Nitish Kumar government’s Covid policy as an instance. After Nitish decided a night curfew at an all-party meet on April 19 to contain the spike in coronavirus cases, the BJP was unhappy because the party’s state unit president Sanjay Jaiswal had suggested a total lockdown over weekends. Jaiswal said though he was not a specialist, he was at a loss to understand how the pandemic can be checked through night curfews?

Jaiswal’s criticism angered JD(U) leaders, who advised him to refrain from politicising the issue. The party’s parliamentary board chairman and former Union minister Upendra Kushwaha cautioned him: “Jaisawal ji, this is no time for making political statements.”

The Bihar BJP chief appeared to have the last laugh when Nitish had to enforce complete lockdown from May 5 to May 15 as Covid infections and deaths rose exponentially. Jaiswal took the opportunity to remind people how he had pressed for a full lockdown over weekends at the all-party meet, “When I suggested the lockdown, there were only 40,000 cases in Bihar,” he says. “Today, the number of active COVID-19 cases has risen to more than one lakh...” The BJP’s state chief apparently had another reason to hit out at the JD(U), Kushwaha in particular, who had congratulated West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee on her victory in the recent elections in a way that was construed in political circles as being offensive for a BJP smarting from its defeat.

Political observers believe that Kushwaha’s comment was a deliberate attempt to spite the BJP, which had pressed all its top leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union home minister Amit Shah into the Bengal battleground.

Kushwaha returned fire with another barb at Jaiswal—without naming him—after he made a veiled attack on JD(U) leaders for the delay in announcing a total lockdown. “Gentlemen, use your energy in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and chief minister Nitish Kumar, not in political chicanery.” To rub more salt, he went on to congratulate Mamata once again on the day they were blaming Mamata for post-poll violence in Bengal. Political observers believe that Kushwaha’s actions have Nitish’s backing. Though both sides continue to rubbish reports about their differences, the BJP’s loss in Bengal has given the JD(U)—which has lesser numbers than its partner in the Bihar assembly—an opportunity to assert itself within the alliance. With RJD president Lalu Prasad Yadav’s release from prison on bail, the NDA’s Bihar script may well offer more twists and turns.

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