Whatever the troubles within the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the split in its Bihar Legislature Party seems to have been encouraged and engineered by its rival, the ruling Janata Dal (United). That the Speaker of the Assembly, Uday Narayan Choudhary, chose to recognise 13 of the rebels in the 22-member Legislature Party as a separate group was surprising as even if their action was considered to be a split, they did not constitute two-thirds of even the Legislature Party, the minimum required for the benefit of exemption from the provisions of the Tenth Schedule, which provides for disqualification on the ground of defection. Indeed, seven of the 13 claimed that their signatures were forged and that they had not left the RJD at all. Evidently, political considerations weighed on the Speaker’s mind more than the Tenth Schedule. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who is surviving on the support of the Congress and Independents, required six more members for his party to have an absolute majority. At a time when he was involved in propping up an alternative to both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party at the national level, Mr. Kumar could not have counted on continued Congress support. Moreover, the Congress and the RJD are close to coming to a seat-sharing understanding for the Lok Sabha election, and it would only have been a matter of time before the RJD persuaded the Congress to withdraw support. While the rebels might have had their own reasons for leaving the RJD, the split could not have happened without the blessings of the JD (U) leadership, and the partisanship of the Speaker. The proper course for the rebels to join the JD (U) would have been to resign their seats, and contest elections again on the JD (U) ticket. That they did not do so is also illustrative of the lack of confidence in the JD (U) camp: not much can be left to chance, or the will of the people.

Bihar remains one of the crucial States in the Lok Sabha election calculus, sending 40 members to Parliament, and the Congress, the BJP, and third front parties all fancy their chances. The Lok Jan Shakti Party led by Ram Vilas Paswan seems to have added another dimension to poll-eve politics by moving closer to the BJP. While this might be a pressure tactic as seat-sharing negotiations gather momentum, Bihar seems to be one State where several permutations and combinations are possible in alliances. At different points of time, the JD (U) and the LJP wooed both the Congress and the BJP. No matter how the RJD rebels issue plays out, the State seems set for hectic political activity in the weeks before the election, and a fiercely contested three-way battle. It is to be hoped that the latest turn does not heighten the turbulence in the State.

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