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Assertive Nitish seeks to paper over JD(U) faultlines

BJP’s move to induct only R.C.P. Singh into Union cabinet has upset the power dynamics in the party

August 03, 2021 08:58 pm | Updated 08:58 pm IST - Patna

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar addresses to the media in Patna.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar addresses to the media in Patna.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who this week joined the Opposition in demanding a probe into the Pegasus snooping row and a caste-based census in the State, has appeared combative against the BJP, an alliance partner at the Center and in the State.

While Mr. Kumar’s demands have led to raised eyebrows and some consternation in the BJP, political observers trace the change to recent developments in his party, the JD(U). They point out that soon after his former party president and close aide R.C.P. Singh took oath as Minister of Steel after the reshuffle of the Union Council of Ministers, Mr. Kumar replaced Mr. Singh from the party post and started making statements on issues challenging the Central government.

Political sources in Bihar say Mr. R.C.P. Singh took oath as Minister without the approval of his party leader Mr. Kumar, who had insisted on his earlier demand for two or more cabinet berths at the Centre. In May 2019, Mr. Kumar had refused to join PM Modi’s cabinet, saying his party wanted to have “proportional representation, instead of symbolic one”.

In the cabinet reshuffle this year again, Mr. Kumar wanted at least two of his close aides — R.C.P. Singh and Rajiv Ranjan Singh alias Lalan Singh — included in the cabinet, say party sources. But, only R.C.P. Singh was offered a berth and he readily accepted the offer which apparently did not go down well with Mr. Kumar.

“R.C.P. Singh is the party’s national president and it is his decision to join the Cabinet. In 2019, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar was party president and it was his decision at that time not to join the Union Cabinet,” said party MP from Munger Lalan Singh. Soon after the cabinet reshuffle, he replaced Mr. R.C.P. Singh as the party’s national president.

Bitter rivals

Earlier from 2005 to 2009, Mr. Lalan Singh, who comes from upper caste Bhumihar community, was party president and his bitter relations with Mr. R.C.P. Singh was an open secret in the State’s political corridors. Both leaders command considerable support within the JD(U). Apparently, Mr. Kumar moved quickly to replace Mr. R.C.P. Singh as party chief to nip dissent within the party.

“Mr Kumar, in fact, did this to do a balancing act to ward off any intra-party rivalries as it was common knowledge that Lalan Singh too wanted to become minister at the Centre. But the BJP played the masterstroke to decimate alliance partner Nitish Kumar by inducting only R.C.P. Singh. This apparently hurt Mr. Kumar who, of late, has started taking a stand on issues in tune with the Opposition’s voice,” a senior Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader and an old associate of Mr. Kumar told The Hindu over phone.

While the ruling NDA leaders in Bihar refused to make any comment on the issue on record, however, on condition of anonymity, some of them said they too have been “observing that ever since party leader R.C.P Singh was inducted into PM Modi’s cabinet, Mr Kumar has been taking different stand from BJP on controversial issues”.

Stoking divisions

“The BJP might have made R.C.P. Singh a minister in the cabinet at the Centre to embarrass Nitish Kumar and Mr Kumar too might have sensed it. So, he, of late, has been in a combative mood against BJP,” a senior JD (U) leader claiming to be equidistant from both the R.C.P. Singh and Lalan Singh camps, told The Hindu .

State BJP leaders have remained silent on Mr Kumar’s recent remarks, saying, “it is for top party leadership to respond”.

“The BJP might have some unexpected sudden plan with R.C.P. Singh in Bihar. Who knows which way the politics will take turn in the State in coming days, political analyst Ajay Kumar said.

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