TV channels keep suspense alive on Nitish Kumar’s possible ‘fourth’ switch

The present round of speculation was triggered allegedly from Kumar's comments at an event, interpreted as an attack on the RJD and Lalu Yadav

Speculation intensifies as reports suggesting Nitish Kumar (pictured) may switch back to the BJP-NDA alliance surfaces (photo: National Herald archives)
Speculation intensifies as reports suggesting Nitish Kumar (pictured) may switch back to the BJP-NDA alliance surfaces (photo: National Herald archives)

A.J. Prabal

'Alliance teeters on the brink... intense speculation in Patna and Delhi... talks of a deepening rift... Nitish Kumar could cross over to NDA again... BJP state president left for Delhi... RJD played down possibility... No word from the Congress... At least three BJP leaders said this would be a “win-win”...'

These phrases are from a report in a ‘national’ newspaper on Friday morning, 26 January, on the alleged political crisis in the state of Bihar.

The reporters were clearly clutching for straws in the wind to present a coherent analysis of the developing situation, to keep the pot boiling with ‘speculation’ that Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar was about to switch sides and return to the BJP and the NDA fold, for the fourth time in his political career.

Ironically, barely three months ago, BJP leaders had described Nitish Kumar as the ‘most vulgar’ political leader in the country.

The Prime Minister himself had declared that “One of the INDIA alliance's big leaders who is holding the bloc's flag high and playing different games to unseat the present government (at the Centre) used a language which no one can even think of in a state assembly in the presence of mothers and sisters... he didn't even feel ashamed of it”.

The criticism followed the Bihar chief minister describing in the Assembly how educated women can persuade their husbands to practise the ‘withdrawal method’ so as not to conceive.

The present round of speculation was triggered allegedly by Nitish Kumar’s statement at Karpoori Thakur’s birth centenary celebrations that he, unlike others, had followed the late socialist leader’s example of not promoting family members in politics.

It was promptly interpreted as an attack on the RJD and Lalu Yadav.

At the same function, the chief minister thanked the prime minister for the government’s decision to confer the posthumous Bharat Ratna on Karpoori Thakur (1924–1988), who was twice the chief minister of the state. The PM had not called him, the chief minister revealed, and he had got the information from Karpoori Thakur’s son, JD(U) Rajya Sabha member Ramnath Thakur, who was informed by the PM.

Nitish Kumar also cribbed that although he had been pleading for a Bharat Ratna for Thakur since 2007, no government had heeded his request.

In New Delhi, a BJP leader from Bihar (and a former deputy chief minister to Nitish Kumar) said that he had no information on Nitish Kumar rejoining the NDA. Even in 2017, he added, BJP cadres and leaders in the state were not in favour of taking back Nitish Kumar. But if central leaders decided otherwise, he told the media, everybody would accept it.

In the 243-member Bihar Assembly, the party-wise breakup of seats is as follows:

  • RJD (79)

  • BJP (78)

  • JDU (45)

  • INC (19)

  • CPIML (12)

  • HAM (4)

  • CPI (2)

  • CPM (2)

  • AIMIM (1)

  • Independent (1)

The BJP, JDU and HAM together have 129 MLAs in the House with 121 as the halfway mark. The RJD, Congress and the Left have 114 members in the House, excluding the solitary Independent and the AIMIM legislators.

TV channels breathlessly reported on 25 January that a decision was imminent and that Nitish Kumar was indeed about to switch sides once again. They gleefully reported that it would leave the INDIA bloc in Bihar in the lurch.

As evidence, they pointed to a cabinet meeting convened to discuss preparations for the budget session, which folded up in 20 minutes. “There was visible tension between the chief minister and his deputy Tejashwi Yadav of the RJD at the meeting,” they informed the viewers.

They also cited the series of tweets by the Singapore-based daughter of Lalu Prasad, deleted hours later, allegedly taking a potshot at the chief minister without naming him.

The chief minister was unlikely to attend the Purnea rally of Rahul Gandhi on 30 January, they cited as further evidence.

Bihar BJP leaders freely gave sound bytes to the TV channels, admitting that it would be a ‘win-win’ situation. One of them candidly confessed that the BJP was working to split the JD(U) in the state, if necessary. That sounded like the only credible bit of information in a day-long drama.

It ended with the TV channels informing viewers reluctantly that the "next 48 hours were crucial" and the split could happen as early as 27 January.

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