Patna: Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar may be equivocal about his national ambitions, but the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) seems to be banking on his shift to Delhi for Tejashwi Yadav to make the best of the fresh coalition arrangement in the state.
RJD leaders believe that, in his second stint as CM Nitish’s deputy, Tejashwi will be more assertive, unlike the previous tenure when his father, Lalu Prasad, was taking all the decisions. Lalu, RJD sources say, has already taken on the role of an adviser for the party.
“We perceive Tejashwi as the CM in 2024. Nitish will shift to Delhi politics, while he rules Bihar. This does not mean that the RJD will remain completely aloof from national politics. It wants to be a player in the anti-BJP camp,” RJD Member of Legislative Council (MLC) Sunil Singh told ThePrint.
Both political watchers and RJD leaders stress that the latest developments — the Janata Dal (United) breaking ranks with the BJP and joining hands with the RJD — will help Tejashwi more than Nitish.
On Wednesday, former Bihar deputy chief minister and BJP MP Sushil Kumar Modi had referred to Tejashwi as “de facto CM”.
Tejashwi has announced that the Bihar government will deliver on the promise of providing 10 lakh jobs that he had made in the 2020 poll campaign.
“The RJD’s future is tagged with Tejashwi, and nobody can say that it is not bright. He will be at the forefront in any election in the future for CM,” RJD national vice-president Shivanand Tiwari told ThePrint, stressing that “politics of the past does not matter”.
For the last five years — when Nitish was with the BJP — Tejashwi had attacked Nitish on all fronts of governance, be it law and order or poor infrastructure in health and education. He had emerged as a crowd-puller in the 2020 Bihar election and gave the BJP-JD(U) a run for their money.
But now, Tejashwi will be working under Nitish, which can blunt his aggression. In the changed scenario, especially if the RJD-JDU alliance continues until the next assembly election in 2025, Tejashwi will have to defend the Nitish Kumar government’s performance while it’s the BJP that will seek to benefit from anti-incumbency against the ruling coalition.
Political analyst D. M. Diwakar, however, feels the RJD leader is unlikely to bear the brunt of anti-incumbency.
“It would have happened if the BJP had performed better. But, after the 2020 polls, the performance of BJP ministers has been lacklustre. People will always compare the performance of this government with the government when the BJP was in power,” said Diwakar, the former director of A.N. Sinha Institute of Social Studies.
The political development has given Tejashwi a rare opportunity to learn the political traits of Nitish and how he manoeuvres events in his favour, Diwakar added.
‘Lessons learnt’ from previous stint
While RJD leaders concede that Tejashwi slipped in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, as the party’s tally fell to nil from 4 in 2014, they point out how he led the RJD to become the single-largest party after the 2020 elections.
“Now the combined vote of the RJD and the JD(U) will be beyond the reach of the BJP. Even in 2020, the difference between the Grand Alliance and the NDA was only about 16,000 votes. We snatched the Bochha assembly seat from the BJP by a margin of over 35,000 votes,” said an RJD MLA, pointing out that the BJP has no other ally in Bihar except Chirag Paswan of the Lok Janshakti Party (Ram Vilas).
“So, Tejashwi will be in a much more comfortable position than in 2019, when the RJD failed to open its account.”
While the JD(U) has 45 legislators in the 243-member Bihar assembly, the RJD has 79. Together with the Congress and Left parties, the mahagathbandhan has more than the required majority mark of 122. The BJP has 77 MLAs.
The Grand Alliance has just to ensure that its social base consisting of Yadavs, Muslims, Kurmis, Kushwahas and a part of the Extremely Backward Classes remains intact, the RJD legislator said.
The mahagathbandhan government of 2015 — when Nitish had briefly joined hands with the RJD and the Congress — was beset with inherent contradictions as the two main partners pulled in different directions.
Back then, RJD ministers were said to have shown no accountability to CM Nitish Kumar, with many not appearing at his Janata Darbar. They chose to report directly to Lalu.
There were also irritants of ‘bahubalis (strongmen)” like former Siwan MP Mohammad Shahabuddin and former Nawada MLA Raj Ballabh Yadav. The RJD was seen to have resisted their arrest despite them facing criminal cases.
The public criticism of Nitish by senior RJD leaders like Raghuvansh Prasad Singh had also created bitterness between the two allies. While Nitish had joined hands with Lalu to keep the BJP out of power, the two allies had conflicting objectives. “Tejashwi has become more mature. We will ensure these follies are not repeated,” said RJD MLC Sunil Singh.
(Edited by Tony Rai)