Midnight coup: When Nitish Kumar, Sushil Modi redrew strategy to beat Lalu Prasad

Updated on Jul 27, 2017 01:30 PM IST

Nitish Kumar and Sushil Modi met Bihar governor Keshri Nath Tripathi a little after midnight to submit a list of JD(U) and NDA legislators and stake claim to form the next government.

Nitish Kumar with senior BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi at an oath taking ceremony, at Raj Bhawan in Patna.(PTI Photo)
Nitish Kumar with senior BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi at an oath taking ceremony, at Raj Bhawan in Patna.(PTI Photo)
Hindustan Times, Patna | By

It was a coup of sorts that was sealed at midnight.

Even as RJD chief Lalu Prasad was racing by road to Ranchi to be present in time for the hearing in fodder scam cases stacked against him by the CBI special court, chief minister in waiting and former ally Nitish Kumar joined BJP’s Sushil Kumar Modi to meet Bihar governor in-charge Keshri Nath Tripathi a little after midnight to submit a list of 128 JD(U) and NDA legislators and stake claim to form the next government.

It was decided that Kumar would be sworn in at 5pm on Thursday but the Rashtriya Janata Dal’s insistence that it was the biggest political entity with 80 seats and it alone had the right to claim a chance at forming the next government, spooked the Janata Dal(United) and the Bharatiya Janata Party.

The strategies were re-drawn and soon after they rushed to the Raj Bhawan at 12.30am to meet the governor, now back after a nose infection forced him to visit the Indira Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences at around 10pm.

Scam-tainted RJD leader and Prasad’s younger son Tejashwi Yadav had already wrangled an invite ‘in principle’ from the governor for a meeting at 11am when he would have presented his claim to form the next government. It was decided that the swearing in would be brought forward to 10am to beat the RJD bid to create a constitutional issue and delay the formation of the next government.

RJD leader and Prasad confidante Bhola Yadav raised the matter of principle.

“We were a part of one alliance - the Grand Alliance - and together won the seats we did. In that coalition, the people’s mandate was for both to rule with the bigger responsibility on RJD with 80 seats. If the smaller party withdraws, technically, given that the alliance was one, the chance should devolve on the RJD. We had insisted only at that, and fairly, but the BJP and Kumar have cheated, diluted the norms to keep us out,” he said.

Soon as it became known that the RJD had been outgunned with the governor accepting the NDA numbers and inviting Kumar for the swearing in at 10am on Thursday, all hell broke loose at 2am.

Tejashwi joined senior leaders Jagdanand Singh, Abdul Bari Siddique, and Raghubansh Prasad Singh at the head of 11 other RJD ministers in the outgoing cabinet and walked to the Raj Bhawan, defying security, insistent on meeting Tripathi. By that time, JD(U) legislators were ensconced safely at 1, Anne Marg, the official residence of Kumar.

The JD(U) seemed to have indeed feared a split in its ranks with Sharad Yadav, one of its top leaders playing truant over the party’s decision to join the National Democratic Alliance. It was feared the Yadav leader, who talked to Prasad, could provoke a split though there were no such pointers. Sharad was just sulking.

The RJD did meet the governor at 2.42am with only to five of its representatives were allowed to go in. Tripathi assured to take their view and sent them home after just 10 minutes at 2.52am. The notification inviting Kumar to take charge as the 35th chief minister and the sixth time was issued minutes later.

Even as there was sloganeering from the RJD’s supporters around the power hub of the new capital area of Patna, there was a huge relief of sorts in the JD(U) camp.

For two years since 2015 - when the last assembly elections took place after RJD chief and Kumar sealed a deal which swept the polls - the JD(U) accepted, ‘it’s time for introspection’ and break the alliance.

“In these two years, governance suffered. The government was choked. We failed on our own expectations. It was sheer trauma putting up with allies who put us down, “ JD(U) spokesperson Ajay Alok admitted.

Prasad earlier dared Kumar to show some guts and gumption and convene a joint meeting of the grand alliance legislators and leave them to elect a new leader. He assured if Kumar was not to be the candidate, his sons, deputy chief minister in the outgoing cabinet Tejashwi Prasad Yadav and Tej Pratap Yadav, would also keep out.

He added, “I do not think Kumar will relish it,” while alleging, “Nitish has confirmed himself to be a backstabber. He backstabbed NDA against who he fought and won, and now his allies for the BJP after swearing that even if he is reduced to ashes, he would not go back to it”.

Prasad secretly hoped that should he convince Kumar to convene a GA meet, he could somehow benefit from a split with the chief minister sidelined and a leader of his choice could be elected with some cross votes after earlier RJD probings to split the JD(U) failed.

The RJD also hoped that the 16 Muslim-Yadav legislators in the JD(U) would support him in such a scenario. That was not to be as Kumar and Modi, not discounting a possibility of Prasad’s machinations coming into play, fortified themselves with a new alliance an hour after the GA fell.

The deft JD(U)-NDA move to submit the letter of support to the governor and elect Kumar as the next chief minister, foreclosed all options RJD might have had - including legal and constitutional.

However, that the Congress and the RJD had not given up was clear when the former announced it would observe Thursday as a black day in protest against Kumar’s volte face and the RJD camp indicated it would make a bid for power.

JD(U) insiders say the RJD, which had 12 ministers who relied on Prasad to take decisions for them, stifled the ministry and tied down its hands from governing Bihar. “The hands are free now. We can start governing,” said JD(U) spokesperson Sanjay Singh.

However, there were murmurings within the NDA at Sushil Modi being the deputy chief minister. His position was, however, sealed at Kumar’s insistence.

Kumar and Modi, friends from the JP movement days, had been at the head of the most development oriented regime since 2005 when the NDA came to power with Kumar as chief minister. With Modi as finance minister and Kumar’s deputy, momentous decisions were taken to charge Bihar onto a fast recovery track.

Given the re-emergence of the alliance, Kumar preferred Modi back in place of Tejashwi despite moves within the BJP, which felt a Yadav deputy would be a better choice given that such a move with Prasad removed from the centre stage would help mollify the caste.

The names of Nand Kishore Yadav, a legislator from Patna City, and the BJP’s state chief Nityanand Rai were doing the rounds as Kumar’s prospective deputy after the alliance’s fall. However, in the end, Kumar prevailed with the BJP high command indicating it would give all space to its old friend to perform.

It helps the BJP send the right signals to allies old and new that with it in command regional perspectives would get the space and the freedom they could wish for.

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    Mammen Matthew heads the Bihar edition of Hindustan Times. He has nearly three decades of reporting experience on socio-economic issues and politics in Bihar and Jharkhand. He has specialised in health, Left Wing Extremism and issues of flood plains.

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