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Unease in Nitish Kumar-led ruling alliance in Bihar?

Nitish Kumar’s statements on demonetisation, special status trigger speculation about creeping differences within the JD(U)-BJP alliance in Bihar.

india Updated: May 30, 2018 07:47 IST
Kumar Uttam
Kumar Uttam
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Nitish Kumar,Bihar,JD(U)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar during 'Satyagrah Se Swachhagrah' programme on the concluding ceremony of Centenary of Champaran Satyagraha celebration in Motihari on April 10, 2018. (PTI File Photo)

There is a sense of ‘unease’ within the Janta Dal (United) and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar is ‘disturbed’ with the way things have unfolded in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) after his party allied with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in July last year, two JD(U) leaders said.

JD(U) intensified its demand for a special category status for Bihar earlier this month. Kumar questioned the success of the November 2016 demonetisation decision that he had backed earlier last weekend. And on Tuesday, he put out a two-page statement asking the Finance Commission to look into the differentiated needs of Bihar and backward states with a special perspective.

These moves have triggered speculation that Kumar is preparing for another U-turn after stitching up a surprise alliance with the BJP last year, parting ways with Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress

But while ruling out a break,the first JD(U) leader said real differences have cropped up in the alliance with the BJP.

“What did the BJP not get in an alliance with JD(U)? What did we get in return?” he asked. “A BJP which lost in the Bihar elections today holds key portfolios, including the post of deputy chief minister, in Bihar government. The BJP has not reciprocated.”

The leader said Kumar’s problem is that the BJP remains cold to his concerns on political, administrative and governance issues.

On the issue of governance, he stressed, there is no coordination and major economic decisions having serious ramification, such as the sale of Air India, are being taken without proper consultations.Efforts to resolve administrative issues, such as the demand for special category status for Bihar, are not making headway. And, on issue of politics, the BJP is not willing to cede space to Kumar outside Bihar.

“We want to remain part of the NDA. We do not want to join ranks with any anti-BJP front. But we will not compromise on the issue of self-respect,” JD(U) general secretary KC Tyagi said, adding that several parties, “such as the Congress and the Left Front have kept channels of communication open with us.”

The second JD(U) leader said the distribution of seats for the Lok Sabha election is an issue that the party was concerned about. When JD(U)-BJP were in alliance before Kumar broke ranks in 2013, they shared 40 Lok Sabha seats in a 25:15 ratio. Now the BJP has two more allies in the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) of Ram Vilas Paswan and Rashtriya Lok Samta Party (RLSP) of Upendra Kushwaha.

The JD(U) fielded 38 candidates in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, and won 2. The BJP won 22 out of 30 seats, the LJP 6 out of 7 and the RLSP 3 out of 4.

“The NDA won 31 out of 40 seats without Nitish Kumar. There is little room for him, if he is looking at pre-2014 seat sharing formula,” a senior BJP leader said. BJP insiders dismiss Kumar’s emphasis on special status and demonetization as a muscle-flexing exercise to extract a bigger share of seats.

The first JD(U) leader said, “We are reconciled to the fact that we will not get 25 seats in the alliance. But this whole myth that Kumar has lost his support base and is at the mercy of the BJP is bunkum. Our seat share has to be honourable.” He pointed to that fact that BJP-led NDA had a lead in 173 assembly seats in 2014, which came down to 60 assembly segments when Kumar forged an alliance with the Rashtriya Janata Dal in 2015. “This proves his worth,” he said.

The second JD(U) leader hinted that there was a broad understanding which had to be adhered to. “Why do you think?Nitish and (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi would not have spoken about this before the coalition decision?”

At a press conference on the fourth anniversary of the Modi government, BJP president Amit Shah touted Kumar’s return to the NDA as an indication of the growing size of the alliance. “We will contest election together,” Shah told this newspaper during the campaign in Karnataka.

But, the JD(U) has its own plans. Tyagi said the party was planning a campaign over special category status for Bihar and will soon announce schedule for a big gathering in the national capital

Saibal Gupta, director of the Patna-based Asian Development Research Institute (ADRI), said given that the 2019 general election is just a year away and the next assembly polls are not very far, any political party would want to build its leverage.

“Irrespective of which political party comes to power next time, they will need a special category status for Bihar to push growth. Public investment has its limitation and the state can grow only when private investment comes, which is not possible in this case without a special status,” he said.

First Published: May 30, 2018 07:46 IST