Patna: A month-long assembly session is coming to an end in Bihar and not once did Chief Minister Nitish Kumar call a joint meeting of lawmakers with his coalition partner, the BJP. There couldn’t have been a clearer sign that apart from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar is another state where BJP’s friendships have hit a rough patch.
In Uttar Pradesh, the BJP’s ally and state minister Om Prakash Rajbhar refused to talk to Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath just before the Rajya Sabha polls – in which the BJP needed his support – forcing party president Amit Shah to step in.
In Bihar, the BJP seems to be part of the problem, say sources close to Chief Minister Nitish kumar, who is facing one of his toughest law and order challenges.
Dalit legislators of Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal United (JD-U) today led a march to the governor’s house, much to the embarrassment of the BJP, which rules the centre. “We are Dalits and we are united,” said JD-U’s Shyam Razak.
The latest cause of Nitish Kumar’s widening rift with the BJP is the charges against a 36-year-old BJP leader of inciting communal trouble in Bhagalpur. Arijit Shashwat, the son of union minister Ashwini Choubey, was arrested late on Saturday night in Bihar’s capital Patna.
As Shashwat evaded arrest for days, Nitish Kumar was accused by the opposition of going soft on him. “We are willing to pay any price to restore peace,” the Chief Minister said last week, attacked by leader of opposition Tejashwi Yadav.
Though senior BJP leaders like his deputy Sushil Kumar Modi were active in calming communal tension – Nitish Kumar is seen to be growing closer to other allies like Ram Vilas Paswan.
Nitish Kumar’s intent was clear when, after dumping Lalu Yadav and the Congress last year, he included in his new government Ram Vilas Paswan’s younger brother Pasupati Kumar Paras, who was not even a member of the Bihar Legislature at the time.
Ram Vilas Paswan, a union minister in the Narendra Modi government at the centre, has been a louder critic of the BJP in Bihar than Nitish Kumar.
When Bihar BJP chief Nityanand Rai said the victory of Lalu Yadav’s RJD from Araria in last month’s bypolls would make it an ISI hub, Nitish Kumar didn’t comment except, sources say, in private.
But Mr Paswan openly denounced the statement. He did so after the bypoll results, which were seen as a win for the RJD at a time its chief Lalu Yadav is in jail. Mr Paswan said BJP leaders should not make comments “which create a sense of panic among Muslims”. He also said BJP leaders should “mind their language” and claimed that Nitish Kumar subscribed to his views.
On Ambedkar Jayanti on April 14, Nitish Kumar will attend a meeting of the Dalit Sena called by Mr Paswan.
Mr Paswan has also called Sushil Modi, but Nitish Kumar is likely to upstage everyone by announcing the inclusion of the Paswan caste among Mahadalits or the most underprivileged. When Nitish Kumar’s predecessor Jitan Ram Manjhi was Chief Minister in 2014-15, the Bihar cabinet cleared such a decision but Nitish Kumar never implemented it.
Sources say whether it is Mr Paswan or Nitish Kumar, it all comes down to this – allies want the BJP to treat them with respect.
Many leaders suggest that the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) should be revived and a convenor should be appointed soon as Amit Shah – currently the party’s pointsperson for dealing with sulking or recalcitrant allies – remains preoccupied with elections.