Friends, foes and friends again: The Lalu, Nitish partnership

  • Rai Atul Krishna, Hindustan Times, Patna
  • Updated: Nov 09, 2015 01:04 IST
RJD Chief Lalu Prasad Yadav and Nitish Kumar after the results of the Bihar Assembly elections in Patna. (Arun Sharma/HT Photo)

One is labelled Viru, the other Jai -- and together they have spirited the three-party grand alliance between the Rashtriya Janata Dal, Janata Dal (United) and Congress to a historic win in one of the most crucial political battles of their careers.

Bruised after the BJP’s massive win in Bihar in last year’s general election, the politically savvy Lalu Yadav and Nitish Kumar buried their differences and revived an old alliance going back to the 1970s to fight a common enemy in the key assembly election.

It is another matter, says BJP leader and former Bihar deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi, Lalu and chief minister Nitish, unlike Viru and Jai in Sholay, were never friends. “Political co-travellers from time to time, the two have been. But that’s it,” says Sushil Kumar.

Dub them what you want, but Lalu and Nitish look set to be best friends forever after their emphatic assembly election win on Sunday.

According to Arun Sinha, author of ‘Nitish Kumar and the Rise of Bihar’, what brought Lalu and Nitish some 40 years ago together during the socialist movement launched by Jayaprakash Narayan was their shared need for each other.

Lalu felt threatened by the Hindu nationalistic stream within the movement and wanted to keep socialistic student leaders like Nitish close to him so that he could keep looking strong.

When the Janata Dal won the 1990 assembly polls, Nitish was right by the side of Lalu, helping him outmanoeuvre opponents to emerge as the chief minister.

Read: A victorious Nitish emerges as the face of a national alternative

But just two years later, the two fell out as Nitish was angry at the RJD chief for allegedly giving priority to one particular caste in jobs and promoting corruption in transfers-postings.

They went their separate ways with Nitish forming the Samata Party in 1994. But he managed to win just seven seats while Lalu was voted to a second term.

In 1996, when the Patna high court ordered a CBI probe that eventually sent Lalu to jail in the fodder scam, Nitish was seen as one of the main forces behind the PIL that led to the inquiry. But Lalu managed to hang on to power by getting his wife Rabri Devi to succeed him as chief minister.

Nitish then joined forces with the BJP and after a stint at the Centre returned to Bihar politics to lead the NDA to victory in the 2005 assembly elections, ending the 15-year Lalu era.

Read: Bihar, where Amit Shah’s one-size-fits all strategy failed

Nitish broke away from the NDA in June, 2013 but paid a heavy price the very next year, winning just two of 40 Lok Sabha seats to the NDA’s 31 and Lalu’s four.

A month later, Nitish went to Lalu seeking his support for the JD(U) Rajya Sabha poll candidates. After a 20-year break, the estranged partners were back together: Lalu needed Nitish, he needed Lalu.

Bihar, it seems, also needed both.

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