Bihar mahagathbandhan strained: In a battle of nerves, Nitish Kumar gains upper hand over Lalu Prasad Yadav
Lalu Prasad Yadav's telephonic conversation with Nitish Kumar is being dubbed as a call for truce. Politics is a complicated game of nerves. Under the circumstances, Nitish's moves appear to be smarter than Lalu's.
On the surface, it would seem like Lalu Prasad Yadav never had it so good, both as a father and a politician. His Class IX educated younger son, Tejaswi Yadav, is the deputy chief minister of Bihar and Intermediate pass older son, Tej Pratap, is an influential minister in the same government, holding six important portfolios. His eldest daughter, Misa Bharti, is a Rajya Sabha MP. His wife, Rabri Devi, is leading a happy family life with all the perks and privileges of a former chief minister.
Lalu enjoys all the privileges of a former chief minister and former Union railway minister. As president of Rashtriya Janata Dal and lead partner in the Bihar government, Lalu had announced that he would play the role of a mentor to party leaders, which included his sons and daughters. He also said that he would go around the country with his party symbol of a lantern and create a popular movement against BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Lalu's fortune changed after he stitched an alliance with Nitish Kumar and Congress — the same Mahagathbandhan that decisively won the election against BJP. That was November 2015.
But the situation changed in March 2017. First, the Supreme Court delivered a judgment, reviving criminal conspiracy charges against Lalu in pending cases in the fodder scam, rejecting his plea that he cannot be prosecuted twice for the same offence and ordering the trial court to conclude the case in a time-bound manner, in each of the five pending cases against him. Lalu has already been convicted in one case and had been sentenced to five years of imprisonment. He is out on bail.
It began as a small news story of the Patna Botanical Garden being filled with soil excavated from a mall owned by Lalu's family. Incidentally, Tej Pratap, who is the minister environment and forest minister, is also one of the partners in the family owned property where the mall was under construction. Names of Tejaswi, Misa and other family members cropped up in the benami property deal case.
As the situation stands today, Lalu and his two sons could find themselves on the wrong side of the law. To make matters worse, his alliance partner and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, ever since he broke ranks with the Opposition, has been urging the Centre to take action against benami properties and its holders.
The growing differences between them became evident while backing the presidential nominee — Nitish extended support to NDA candidate Ram Nath Kovind, while Lalu went with Meira Kumar. Lalu went further and made offensive remarks against Nitish and his son Tejashwi soon joined the politcal slugfest, albeit without naming the chief minister. Other RJD leaders too pounced on Nitish.
A politically astute Lalu realised that Nitish's growing fondness for Modi could spell trouble for him. There are also talks in the power corridors that two top RJD leaders have met a top Union minister to discuss the income tax and Enforcement Directorate investigations against Lalu and family but the meeting apparently did not bring any good news for him.
Lalu's telephonic conversation with Nitish, which happened two days ago, is being dubbed as a call for truce. Lalu ordered his men to keep quiet and not utter a word against Nitish. Nitish, on his part, asked his men to refrain from responding to RJD leaders' comments on coalition or the presidential candidate.
Sources within JD(U) say that there has been a communication breakdown between the two leaders and certain bitterness has crept in. "Nitish ji wouldn't compromise on his image. He has earned the reputation of the governance man and of a clean politician. Unlike others, he didn't earn money and made a political fortune for his family. He wouldn't let his image go at any cost. We cannot predict how the situation would unfold and how cases against Tejaswi and Tej Pratap would progress."
Just when talks of truce between RJD and JD(U) were on, RJD announced that it will abide by Congress' decision to boycott the special session of Parliament on GST Friday midnight. Meanwhile, Nitish will send commerce minister Bijendra Prasad Yadav for the session instead of state finance minister Abdul Bari Siddiqui, who is a RJD leader. Nitish has also asked his MPs to be present in that session.
Politics is a complicated battle of nerves. Under the circumstances, Nitish's moves appear to be smarter than Lalu's.
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