iconimg Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Ashok Mishra , Hindustan Times
Patna, May 25, 2013
The friend-turned-foe has turned again. He is a friend now. The fast-changing equation between Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar and the estranged JD(U) MP from Munger, Rajiv Ranjan ‘Lallan’ Singh, has all the elements of a melodrama.

The two friends, estranged towards the end of 2009, have surprised political circles by setting out together on a yatra to Lakhisarai and Munger districts on Wednesday. But there’s more to it: Cold calculations before the 2014 general elections.

The JD(U) is preparing for the 2014 polls very seriously. Kumar’s making new friends and getting the estranged ones back, as he may have to decide to go it alone if Gujarat CM Narendra Modi is declared the NDA’s PM candidate.

So, he now desperately needs former state JD(U) chief Lallan, an influential Bhumihar leader from central Bihar, as he is an efficient “behind-the-scenes” poll manager — a rare quality in high demand, especially in Bihar.

The differences between the two were superficial on the surface — Kumar brought in and mentored Koeri leader Upendra Kushwaha, who later supported former chief minister and RJD leader Rabri Devi’s “personal attacks” against both Kumar and Lallan just before the 2009 general elections.

Lallan became a staunch critic of Kumar’s style of functioning and even canvassed for some Congress candidates during the 2010 assembly elections. He was suspended, but was allowed to remain a JD(U) MP from Munger.

On Wednesday, a beaming Kumar announced at a meeting: “People who move away come back again. Life’s journey goes like that... Our differences are over.” A day before, he said he had never spoken against Lallan in public.

 Lallan reciprocated, saying his friendship with Kumar was “never strained” and they “remained in touch” all these years. “In public life, he is a man of integrity.”

Besides having Lallan back on board, it will be essential for Kumar to forge a strong and winnable caste equation. After coming to power in November 2005, he roped in the support of different castes, especially those opposed to Lalu Prasad’s Muslim-Yadav combine, which accounts for 27% of votes.

For instance, he brought in a major section of the upper castes, non-Yadav backward castes such as the Kurmis and Koeris, extremely backward castes, backward Muslims and 22 of the 23 scheduled castes. Only the Paswans, also called the Dusadhs, are still resisting his charm.

 If the NDA split happens and ally BJP becomes a rival, Kumar will need some tall upper caste leaders — from the Brahmins, Thakurs, Bhumihars and Kayasthas — to attack the BJP’s traditional support base.

The BJP helped the NDA win 32 of the 40 Lok Sabha seats in 2009 and 206 out of 243 seats in the 2010 assembly polls by getting the Banias — the trading community belonging to the non-Yadav backward caste — and a huge portion of the 13% upper caste votes on board.

But what could Lallan’s reasons be? Various surveys on the outcome of the 2014 elections have suggested that Kumar is all set to play a crucial role in forming the next government at the Centre. Lallan wants to be with the winner.