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Congress MLA bats for Nitish Kumar’s return to Grand Alliance, draws RJD ire

Speculation about Nitish Kumar’s return to the grand alliance, which routed BJP-led NDA in the 2015 Bihar assembly polls, caught fire after the CM called up a convalescing Lalu Prasad to enquire about his health.

india Updated: Jun 29, 2018 20:33 IST
Anirban Guha Ray and Arun Kumar
Anirban Guha Ray and Arun Kumar
Hindustan Times, Patna
Congress,Nitish Kumar,RJD
Janata Dal (United) national president and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar(Arijit Sen/HT File Photo)

A senior Congress legislator’s statement that efforts should be made to bring back Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar into the Grand Alliance to defeat the BJP in next year’s general elections hasn’t gone down well with the Rashtriya Janata Dal.

Senior Congress leader Shakeel Ahmad Khan on Friday said Nitish Kumar was a big leader and efforts should be made to bring his Janata Dal (United) and all like-minded secular parties under one umbrella.

Khan slammed RJD’s Tejashwi Prasad Yadav, saying he “should not have said that the doors are shut for Nitish”.

“If doors can remain open for NDA allies Hindustani Awam Morcha-Secular (HAM-S) leader Jitan Ram Manjhi and Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) leader Upendra Kushwaha, why should it remain closed for Nitish?” asked Khan, secretary of All India Congress Committee (AICC) and the party’s West Bengal in-charge.

“If Nitish Kumar leaves the BJP and joins the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), it will only add to the opposition strength,” he said, adding that the Congress leadership was in touch with RJD chief Lalu Prasad for forging a national-level alliance with an eye on 2019 polls.

Khan said it was high time Tejashwi learnt to act maturely and mark his words. “He should understand that the focus, at present, is not on 2020 Bihar assembly polls, but on the 2019 Lok Sabha elections,” he said.

Ahmad’s statement drew sharp reactions from the RJD, whose leaders cited its seniority — by vote share and seats — in the grand alliance in Bihar to assert its right to decide on alliance matters.

“Our leader, Tejashwi has already cleared party’s stand on Nitish,” said RJD’s national vice-president Shivanand Tiwary.

On Khan’s views on Tejashwi, Tiwary said, “Tejashwi is our leader and he is our chief ministerial candidate for 2020 elections. He is the one authorised to take all decisions of the party. The Congress can take a call on alliance issues at the national level.”

Speculation about Nitish’s return to the grand alliance, which routed BJP-led NDA in the 2015 Bihar assembly polls, caught fire after the CM called up a convalescing Lalu Prasad to enquire about his health.

Top sources in the RJD said Nitish’s flip flop in the last few years — by first snapping ties with BJP to join the grand alliance, and then breaking ranks with the grand alliance to realign with the saffron party in July 2017 — had made him an untrustworthy partner.

“Nitish’s manoeuvring to join the grand alliance is seen as an effort to increase his bargaining for seats in the BJP-led NDA. It’s a closed chapter now. Kumar has lost his credibility,” said a senior RJD leader, who did not wish to be named.

Party insiders said RJD’s top brass was toying with the idea of going alone in the LS polls if Congress insisted on Nitish’s return. However, Tejashwi’s close relationship with Congress president Rahul Gandhi could help break ice, they said.

“The Congress is a small force in the state and it should understand the poll dynamics,” said a senior RJD leader close to Lalu.

He said the RJD having remained intact despite Lalu’s incarceration was another example of how Tejashwi had emerged as the top leader of the party and had the backing of all senior leaders and 80 MLAs.

Earlier, senior Congress leaders Shaktisinh Gohil and Sadanand Singh had welcomed the idea of Nitish returning to the GA and strengthening it.

A senior RJD functionary, who did not want to be quoted, had also earlier hinted that there were serious efforts by the Congress for stitching strategic regional alliances to defeat BJP and talks were on at the highest level in Bihar.

First Published: Jun 29, 2018 18:52 IST