Mahagathbandhan goes soft on Nitish Kumar, says ‘not allergic’ to anyone

Nitish Kumar, Bihar Chief minister, NRC, National Register of Citizens, implementation, Bihar, Citizenship Act, protests
Nitish Kumar is the first chief minister of an NDA-ruled state to shut its doors on the citizens’ register that would be crucial to the BJP-led national coalition delivering on its promise to expel infiltrators. Photo: PTI

With the BJP-JD(U) ties under apparent strain, senior RJD leader Raghuvansh Prasad Singh has extended an olive branch to Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, saying non-BJP parties including the JD(U) should join forces against the BJP and that his party is “not allergic” to anyone.

Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan, whose LJP is a constituent of the 3-party NDA bloc in the state apart from the JD(U) and the BJP, however, asserted the alliance is “intact”.

Down in the dumps following the Mahagathbandhan’s Lok Sabha poll whacking, Singh’s comments are being seen as indicative of a shift in his party’s tough stance on Nitish Kumar, after he spurned the offer “symbolic” presence of his party in the Modi cabinet, insisting on “proportional representation”.

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“All non-BJP parties, whether Nitish or a, b or c should come together on a single platform to provide a national alternative. We are not allergic to any particular party or leader,” Singh said on Monday when asked about Kumar’s acceptability in the Mahagathbandhan.

“It would be even better if all small parties merge together and become a single entity to take on the humongous challenge posed by the BJP,” he added.

Read more: Grand Alliance losing relevance in Bihar?

Responding to a question about whether his views had the approval of jailed RJD supremo Lalu Prasad, Singh, a former union minister, said he had made public his personal views. He, however, went on to add that since he and Prasad had worked together for a long time, they thought alike “on most occasions”.

Former chief ministers Rabri Devi and Jitan Ram Manjhi of RJD and Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM), also appeared to have mellowed towards Nitish Kumar.

Manjhi, a former protege of Kumar, greeted the chief minister with a warm hug at the Iftar the HAM leader had hosted on Monday.

“I had my differences with the JD(U) chief over the manner in which I was removed from the post of chief minister. But it has been four years and much water has flown down the Ganges,” Manjhi told reporters.

Formerly with the JD(U), Manjhi became the chief minister in 2014 when he was propped up by Kumar who stepped down taking moral responsibility for the party’s drubbing in the general elections.

Read more: Rift in NDA; Nitish sounds rebellion bugle

Less than a year later, when Manjhi was asked to step down and make way for the return of his mentor, he revolted, quit the JD(U) and formed his own outfit.

Manjhi had also attended an Iftar party hosted by the JD(U) the previous day and his pictures in the media exchanging pleasantries with Kumar raised many eyebrows since the BJP and JD(U) leaders had stayed away from Iftars hosted by each other.

Minutes before Kumar’s arrival, Rabri Devi and her elder son Tej Pratap Yadav left Manjhi’s residence, and when she was queried about possible realignment with the JD(U) chief an old associate of her husband Lalu Prasad she first tried to dodge it with the remark “better ask Manjhi”.

When pressed further, she said, “Any decision on inclusion of new allies can be taken only in consultation with all allies.”

Rabri Devi’s comments were a far cry from the time when her party had accused Kumar of “betraying people” mandate after he bolted out of the Mahagathbandhan in July 2017, resigned as the chief minister, and formed a new government with the BJP — all within 24 hours.

Read more: From special status to praises on Modi: Nitish keeps the world guessing

Meanwhile, Paswan, at whose Iftar party Kumar shared space with BJP leaders like Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi, maintained the “NDA is intact”. A day before, he had asserted, “All is well in the NDA in Bihar and Nitish Kumar is our leader.”

Paswan evaded queries about leaders of the JD(U) and BJP skipping each other’s Iftar parties and said, “I attended both. And leaders of both parties are here as all of us have seen.”

He also declined to comment on the bonhomie seen between Kumar and Manjhi at the Iftar hosted by the latter where the chief minister went shortly after attending the one organised by Paswan.

After attending the swearing-in ceremony of the Narendra Modi government, Kumar had said there was no “unease” between the two alliance partners and the decision against joining the ministry was taken as the JD(U)’s presence there would have been merely “symbolic”.

Read more: How a jailed Lalu gives PM Modi and NDA shivers in Bihar

BJP chief Amit Shah had made repeated attempts to bring Kumar around to accepting his proposal for one berth in the Modi cabinet for the JD(U) but the chief minister spurned the offer insisting on “proportional representation” for his party.

Many saw in this an indication of a rift between the two dominant NDA partners in Bihar which appeared to have only widened when Kumar expanded his cabinet on Sunday with the induction of eight new ministers — all from the JD(U).

In an apparent tit-for-tat action, Kumar had offered one cabinet berth to the BJP, which it declined.

The NDA had won all but one of the 40 Lok Sabha seats in Bihar, decimating the grand alliance, which landed just one that went to the Congress. The RJD, the Mahagathbandhan spearhead in Bihar, drew a blank.

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