Patna, June 28: Janata Dal (United) (JD(U)) president and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar shares a love-hate relationship with his friend-turned-foe and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) supremo Lalu Prasad Yadav.
Since Lalu has been recuperating at a hospital in Mumbai after the Jharkhand High Court granted the former Bihar CM provisional bail for six weeks on medical grounds in May, it is his son and former Bihar deputy CM Tejashwi Yadav who is calling the shots in the RJD. Currently, the RJD patriarch is serving sentences in a number of fodder scam cases.
Recently, when Nitish called up Lalu to enquire about his health, political observers suggested that it was more than a courtesy call, especially at a time when the relationship between the ruling partners--the JD(U) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)--in Bihar is anything but cordial.
The differences among the coalition partners in Bihar are known to all. From the BJP's high-handedness, denial of special package to Bihar by the Centre to the reluctance of the saffron party to decide on the distribution of seats among the partners for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections in 2019, Nitish's discomfort with his alliance partner is growing with each passing day.
Amid all these tensions, rumours are rife that Nitish wants to rejoin the mahagathbandhan or grand alliance (which now consists of the RJD and the Congress).
It has been more than four months since Lalu has been visiting hospitals almost regularly. Several court cases and jail terms have also pushed the once Bihar bahubaali (stalwart) to political oblivion. At that time, Nitish did not remember his old friend and big brother, Lalu.
Now, when the BJP-JD(U) alliance is almost on the verge of collapse in Bihar (if reports are to be believed), Nitish's sudden concern for Lalu's health has a political undertone to it.
Last year, Nitish "backstabbed" the RJD and the Congress by joining hands with the BJP. Nitish's sudden U-turn shocked many as the mahagathbandhan was formed by the JD(U), RJD and Congress in 2015 to fight against the BJP.
The success of mahagathbandhan in the 2015 Bihar Assembly elections was seen by many as a template which the Opposition could copy to keep the BJP out of power. The break-up in the grand alliance showcased the fragile nature of coalition government across the country.
While Nitish tried his best to build bridges between the two allies-turned-adversaries with his courtesy call to Lalu, Tejashwi was in no mood to forgive his uncle. Without mincing any words, Tejashwi said that there was no place for the JD(U) in the mahagathbandhan.
The Yadav scion accused Bihar CM of cheating repeatedly. "Nitish ji ne har baar dhokha dene ka kaam kiya hai. Aisa koi saga nahi, jisko humare chacha ne thagaa nahi. Agar woh phirse aana chaahein, mahagathbandhan mein unki koi jagah nahi hogi (Nitish ji has cheated every time. There is no one who has not been cheated by uncle (Nitish). If he wants to come again, there will be no place for him in the mahagathbandhan)," said Tejashwi.
"Nothing but a late courtesy call to enquire about his health as he uderwent fistula operation on Sunday. Surprisingly, Nitish ji got to know about his ill health after four months of hospitalisation," he added in a tweet.
"I hope he realises he is the last politician to enquire following the BJP/NDA ministers visiting him," he tweeted, in an apparent reference to the courtesy calls by Union ministers Ashwini Choubey and Upendra Kushwaha.
The JD(U) too reacted angrily to Tejashwi's attack against the Bihar CM. The JD(U) called the former deputy CM of Bihar a "street leader" and said that the party did not need Tejashwi's permission to rejoin the mahagathbandhan.
The Congress, which is keen on Nitish's ghar wapsi (return to the grand alliance), told Tejashwi that if the Bihar CM wants to leave the BJP then they should take him back.
But the Yadav scion remained adamant. "They (the Congress) are not authorised to take a decision in this regard," Tejashwi told reporters.
While the anger of Tejashwi is understandable given the problems Nitish had created for his family, keeping an eye on the all-important General elections in 2019, the Yadav scion should reconsider his decision to stay away from the Bihar CM.
If the Opposition wants to fight against the ruling BJP regime in the 2019 big polls, then Nitish is one of the best men to do so, especially in Bihar where there are 40 Lok Sabha constituencies. Or did Nitish lose all the trust of his former allies and voters because of his vacillating nature of changing partners frequently?