Nitish Kumar expels Prashant Kishor, Pavan K Varma from party after showdown

Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By HT Correspondent
UPDATED ON JAN 29, 2020 05:00 PM IST

Janata Dal United boss Nitish Kumar expelled election strategist Prashant Kishor and former diplomat Pavan K Varma from the party on Wednesday. The Bihar chief minister’s decision comes weeks after the two leaders had raised questions about Nitish Kumar in their public remarks.

Kumar had yesterday indicated that the two leaders were free to exit the party and speculated that their remarks had something to do with their future plans outside the JDU.

Prashant Kishor had responded with a barb, his sharpest so far that also raised questions about Nitish Kumar’s courage to stand up for what was right. It was a sentiment that Pavan K Varma had also expressed in his open letter to the chief minister on the JDU’s pact with the BJP to fight the Delhi elections together.

Prashant Kishor’s tweet, a JDU leader suggested, may have been the tipping point for Nitish Kumar.

The JDU said the two leaders had been expelled for what was described as “anti-party activities”.

The two leaders, derisively referred to as intellectuals by Nitish Kumar yesterday, had been outspoken in their criticism of the NDA government’s amendment to the Citizenship Act. The new law, lets the Centre fast-track citizenship of religious minorities from three Muslim-majority neighbours, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, has led to massive protests in parts of the country.

Prashant Kishor and Pavan K Varma were among the first in the ruling NDA to voice their concerns about the citizenship law and its possible misuse to harass people when seen in context of the proposed National Register of Citizens.

Prashant Kishor, who was the party’s vice president, was seen to signal his discomfort in the party after he recently amended his Twitter bio to drop a reference to the party and his designation.

Pavan Varma, on the other hand, had underscored that he would decide on his next step after he gets a response to his letter to Nitish Kumar. He had defended his decision to go public with the letter, pointing that his earlier letter to the chief minister had gone ignored.

Varma, who first joined the Nitish Kumar government as a culture adviser after resigning from the Indian Foreign Service, was later elected to the Rajya Sabha.

Prashant Kishor teamed up with Nitish Kumar ahead of the 2015 state elections when the JDU formed a grand alliance with Lalu Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress. The alliance defeated the BJP and Nitish Kumar returned as the chief minister.

Nitish Kumar’s somersault of 2017 when he exited the grand alliance and teamed up with the BJP had upset Prashant Kishor. But he stayed put and formally joined the JDU the next year. Prashant Kishor’s debut in active politics, however, did not go according to plan and soon enough, he found himself with little to do.

When reporters asked Nitish Kumar about his tweets countering Home Minister Amit Shah on the citizenship law, Nitish Kumar shot back to claim that it was Amit Shah who had nudged him to induct Prashant Kishor into the party in the first place.

Nitish Kumar had made a similar point last year too. This time, Prashant Kishor took him on. In an acerbic tweet, Kishor said: “What a fall for you to lie about how and why you made me join JDU!! Poor attempt on your part to try and make my colour same as yours! And if you are telling the truth who would believe that you still have courage not to listen to someone recommended by @AmitShah?”

JDU spokesperson Rajeev Ranjan Prasad said the party decided to expel the two because “they were continuing their tirade against the party high command”.

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