Indian politics:  High drama by Bihar CM Nitish

Janata Dal (United) supremo Nitish Kumar has dramatically taken oath as the chief minister of the northern Indian state of Bihar, a day after dramatically resigning from the post.  Nitish has scripted and directed the episode to make himself look like a ‘Mr. Clean’ of course in the world of corrupt politicians.

Citing irreconcilable differences with ally RJD, Nitish Kumar resigned as Chief Minister of Bihar. He said he "knocked every door" to salvage the alliance, but in vain. Nitish Kumar told reporters that he had a "zero tolerance" policy on corruption, and had asked his deputy to explain the charges against him to the public. He added that Yadav refused to follow his advice.

Deputy CM Tejaswi has been shunted, angering his father and  RJD chief, former Union Railway minster and CM of Bihar, Lalu Prasad. Nitish had been insisting that either RJD give a clarification on the CBI case against Lalu’s son and Nitish’s Deputy CM Tejashwi, regarding a land-for-contract scam, or Tejashwi should step down on moral grounds. Lalu also reiterated his stand that Tejashwi Yadav's resignation is out of question.

BJP announced support for JD (U) and Nitish Kumar as chief minister. The party also added that it will be part of the government.  BJP leader Sushil Modi will be the deputy chief minister of Bihar and will take oath will Nitish on Thursday. Lalu Prasad Yadav says Nitish had "betrayed" him. He said that Nitish was afraid of his son Tejashwi's rise in politics.

Nitish took oath as Chief Minister of Bihar the very next day after striking a deal with BJP, while Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Sushil Modi took oath as Bihar Deputy Chief Minister. BJP's Sushil Modi is thus back as his deputy. News reports suggest that the BJP has handed over a list of 14 MLAs for ministerial posts. However, other ministers will take oath only after the trust vote, which is scheduled for Friday the July 28.

The Bihar CM needs this dramatic step to come closer to Modi and to bet his domestic foes -mainly his new foe Lalu Prasad Yadav with whose poll alliance he won the state elections and become the CM as a common candidate for the same against the wish and will of the BJP and PM Modi but now they are his ‘beloved” comrades.

PM Modi tweeted lauding Nitish Kumar for dropping corrupt parties led by Congress and “joining the fight against corruption." 

Though the CBI raids and corruption cases against Lalu and his clan triggered Mahagathbandhan's demise, the JD (U) and BJP leaders had also begun secret talks in March itself.

A stung Lalu, in a dramatic press conference claims that Nitish's decision to break the alliance is because he is facing trial for murdering a man in 1991. He accused Kumar of working slyly with the BJP-led NDA to destabilize the coalition. His son and Dy CM Tejashwi Yadav sought appointment with governor saying that he will also stake claim to form the next government. Tejashwi Yadav marched to the governor's house while Lalu requested the governor to postpone the oath-taking ceremony but drew a blank.

In Bihar Lalu and Nitish fought elections against formidable BJP alliance in 2015 and won. Now the Grand alliance is breaking down as BJP has stepped up to use a pro-Hindutva pretending leader Nitish. Kumar said that he had to resign because of corruption probes against the leaders of his alliance partner, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD).  Kumar has found a new partner in PM Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which he had defeated in 2015 in a bitterly contested state election.

The RJD has accused Nitish of "betrayal". Former chief minister and federal minister Laloo Prasad Yadav, who leads the RJD, said Kumar had colluded with the BJP to tarnish his party's image. Yadav and his son Tejaswi, who was the deputy chief minister in Kumar’s government, are being investigated for corruption by India's Central Bureau of Investigation. They have denied any wrongdoing.

Interestingly, Nitish had quit the NDA in 2013 citing differences with the BJP's decision to announce Modi as its prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 general elections..Now they are “friends”.  PM Modi has quickly praised Nitish for his “honesty" in standing up to corruption.

Earlier in the day, the Congress aimed potshots at Nitish Kumar and dubbed his resignation and collaboration with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as 'disappointing'.  Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh questioned Kumar that was he not aware about Lalu and his family before he agreed to be a part of grand alliance.

Meanwhile, former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav fired sardonic salvo on Bihar's political upheaval, where senior Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar has severed ties with Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and is ready to form next government with his former ally- the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).  Son of former CM and former Union military minister Mulayam Singh, Akhilesh mocked Nitish Kumar and said that the latter could not resist separation from his former ally.

Even though it was believed that Nitish was in secret talks with the BJP, political observers question the role of the Congress, which could have saved the alliance. Nitish met Rahul twice when he arrived in Patna, asking him to impress upon the RJD to withdraw deputy chief minister Tejashwi Yadav from the government or at least explain allegations levelled in the CBI FIR. Failing, he put last hopes on Congress President Sonia Gandhi, who during the UPA-II regime, was instrumental in removing many central ministers after allegations surfaced against them. But she had indicated that sacking a minister on the basis of an FIR didn't appear reasonable against the backdrop of the BJP's refusal to drop any of its tainted leaders. When Tejashwi met her at the insistence of his father, she did express worry about the fate of the alliance, but didn't appreciate Nitish's "stubborn" attitude.

The split of RJD and JDU took the Congress party by surprise if not shock. Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi MP attacked Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, saying he defied secular mandate for personal gain. He said the party knew that it was being planned for the last three to four months," said Rahul Gandhi speaking to media. Stating that the mandate was given to Nitish ji for the anti-communal fight, Rahul added, "But now Nitish has joined hands with them (BJP) for his personal politics." The Congress leader also attacked Nitish Kumar saying, people can do anything to be in power. JD (U) leader Neeraj Kumar said that there was no question of compromising on corruption.

The Congress was too late, maybe deliberately,  to rush its senior leader CP Joshi to Patna to explore the possibility of calling a meeting with JD (U), RJD and Congress legislatures to chalk out the possibility of forming a new government and saving the alliance. A senior Congress leader admitted that there was already a high degree of trust deficit with Nitish after he ditched Meira Kumar to support Ram Nath Kovind as presidential candidate. "We know political blackmail and witch-hunt are part of Narendra Modi's strategy to break Opposition unity and Nitish has fallen into the trap," said a senior Congress leader. He said that Nitish has been engaging with the BJP central leadership over the past few days at a time when communication with Lalu had virtually collapsed. If there is no suspicion about the JD (U)'s intentions, various ways could have been explored to save the coalition.

While, Congress and RJD call Nitish a traitor of the cause of secularism and democracy, BJP leaders call his new brand politics of twists Nitish's 'ghar wapsi' and hope to give a stable and capable government in Bihar. Opposition leaders, cutting across many divides, were looking at Nitish to repeat the magic of VP Singh, who had in 1989 successfully ousted Rajiv Gandhi from power.

The Congress has 27 MLAs, all of whom have come out in vocal support of RJD leaders. With Congress party reeling under the corruption image, its leader and vice-president Rahul Gandhi still to find acceptability as a leader of any potential grouping, Nitish was an ideal choice due his "impeccable" image. 

Nitish Kumar's walking out of Bihar's Grand Alliance extinguished the flicker of hope in the secular camp to take on the BJP-led NDA under Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the 2019 general elections. Kumar's new stint also marks his return to the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). His party voted for BJP’s presidential candidate while RJD’s MPs and MLAs supported the Congress led UPA candidate and lost.  

Post script   - Nitish wins floor test

Nitish Kumar comfortably won on July 28 the crucial trust vote 131-108, after a vitriol-filled debate during which he defended his decision to return to the NDA fold, saying the opposition should not teach him a lesson in secularism. He narrated events that preceded his decision to walk out of the grand alliance on July 26. The 131 votes in favour of Nitish Kumar comprised JD (U) 70, BJP 52, HAM 1, RLSP 2, LJP 2 and Independent 4. The 108 votes against the motion included 79 of RJD, Congress 26 and CPI-ML 3. Senior RJD leader Abdul Bari Siddiqui's demand for a secret vote was rejected by the speaker.

The result of the floor test, held a day after he took office for the sixth time, jettisoning the RJD and embracing former ally BJP, was a foregone conclusion given the numerical superiority of the bloc supporting his government. Bihar's new government needed 120 votes to win the confidence vote. Replying to the debate on the confidence vote, Kumar tore into the likes of Lalu Prasad and others who criticised him for returning to the BJP-led NDA's fold.

Apparently targeting Rahul Gandhi, who had said he had gone back to the NDA fold to meet his "selfish" ends, Kumar, without taking any names, said in the 2015 Assembly polls Lalu Prasad was not prepared to spare for the Congress more than 15-20 seats, and it was he who intervened and ensured they got 40 seats to contest out of which the party won 27.

Seeking favors from the federal government PM Modi, Kumar said he followed "coalition ethics" and rebutted the charge that he betrayed people's mandate, which his detractors claimed, was for the grand alliance. "The mandate was for good work and transparency," he said. In his speech, Kumar said the decision to ally with the BJP was in the best interest of Bihar. Now that there is an NDA government in the state and another at the Centre, the state will scale new heights of development, he said.

Earlier, soon after Kumar moved the motion seeking confidence of the House, a rancorous debate ensued, with his former deputy Tejashwi Yadav mounting an all-out attack on him, calling his decision to join hands with the BJP "dhokha" (betrayal) with the people of Bihar. Yadav said Kumar, whom he referred to as his "guru" and "chacha" (uncle), despite having the epithet "vikas purush" (man of development), cannot win elections on his own. He cited the Assembly polls of 1995 and 2014 Lok Sabha elections when his party could secure just seven and two seats respectively.

Yadav's speech was repeatedly punctuated by the word as he blamed Kumar for the disintegration of the grand alliance in the state which also included the Congress. "Nitish Kumar made me a 'mohra' (pawn) to build his image. The entire action (of seeking his resignation) was just an excuse so he could go with BJP," Yadav, who along with his father and RJD chief Lalu Prasad, and mother Rabri Devi have been made an accused in the hotels-for-land scandal case, said.

Now the Nitish is back as CM and there is no immediate threat to Nitish government now backed by BJP.

Bihar is one worst affected states infested by corrupt politicians. How far Nitish could change the corruption scenario during his tenure as CM - remains a mystery.

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