The Nitish Kumar-led JD(U) was saved major embarrassment on Thursday after rebels nearly scuttled the party's bid to get its two nominees elected in bypolls for the Rajya Sabha. The rescue was delivered by RJD chief Lalu Prasad and 18 of his party's MLAs who voted in favour of JD(U) candidates Pawan Verma Verma and Gulam Rasool Baliyawi.
The JD(U)'s candidates faced a tough election amid stiff challenge from party rebels-backed Independents Anil Kumar Sharma and Shabir Ali. The 243-seat Bihar assembly has a current strength of 233 members. Of the 117 MLAs of the JD(U), 18 rebel legislators voted for the two Independent candidates instead of the party's official nominees.
Joined by 83 of the 84 BJP MLAs, 18 JD(U) rebels, two each of the RJD and the Congress and three Independents, the challengers to the JD(U) nominees notched up 108 votes against 122 for Kumar's party.
"Cross-voting in the by-election is along expected lines as the opposition BJP is encouraging it by backing rebel JD(U) legislators and allegedly using money power," a JD(U) leader said.
Though the JD(U) - supported by 18 RJD MLAs, two of the Congress, two Independents and one CPI legislator - managed a win, it was left with a political scar with the near defeat. It was also probably for the first time in two decades that Kumar publicly sought support from the RJD chief after he and Prasad parted ways in 1994.
The BJP's involvement, however, brought about unprecedented unity between the JD(U), the RJD and the Congress for the first time, despite them having fought the Lok Sabha elections against each other.
In a parting shot, Ali, who could not clinch the election, said: "It was Lalu Prasad who called me several times each day to enter the fight, and assured full support of his 21 legislators 'to teach a lesson to Nitish Kumar. I stood as an Independent, not a BJP candidate. Yet Lalu reneged. It shows him for what he is."