Violent protests against Agnipath scheme for recruitment in the armed forces may have fizzled out in Bihar within a week of eruption but the discord these triggered between Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) and ally BJP seems to have cast a long shadow on the coalition.
The JD(U), which has taken as an affront to its leader the criticism of the BJP of the administration’s handling of last week’s depredations, is now insistent on reviving the coordination committee that existed during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee era and served as a platform where differences among allies were ironed out.
"The NDA coordination committee, back then, used to be chaired by our leader George Fernandes. It used to meet every month. Now, in the absence of such a platform, people tend to voice their differences of opinion before the media instead of before each other," JD(U) chief national general secretary K C Tyagi told PTI.
Tyagi also took strong exception to second-rung BJP leaders in Bihar belittling his leader every now and then, asserting that nobody in the JD(U) has ever been disrespectful towards Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
"The two parties have distinct ideologies. But often leaders of the BJP express their ideological position in a way that seems to cock a snook at us and our leader," Tyagi said, citing the examples of population control bill, uniform civil code and a nationwide NRC.
The veteran JD(U) leader also seems to be miffed with the swagger many BJP leaders tend to display while flaunting their status as a numerically superior alliance partner. He seeks to remind the BJP that announcement of Kumar as the chief ministerial candidate in the thick of assembly elections in November 2005, had helped the NDA clinch a decisive victory and unseat the seemingly invincible Lalu Prasad.
He also objects to some BJP leaders’ contention that Kumar, who had allied with Prasad a few years ago, was an unreliable ally, pointing out "in 2010 assembly polls, we had won 115 seats, only seven short of a full majority. We could have junked the BJP in an attempt to undercut it and still managed to form a government. But we did not do so."
The break-up came three years later, with the ascendance of Narendra Modi, then the chief minister of Gujarat, who was deemed too controversial for his alleged role in post-Godhra riots, for allies like Kumar who have studiously cultivated a "secular" image. The BJP leaders in Bihar should also know Nitish Kumar did not want to become the CM for the fourth consecutive term. They ought to be aware that he agreed only after being pressed to continue by their party’s top leadership in Delhi, said Tyagi, who is himself based in the national capital.
He also referred to the conspiracy, hatched with the help of Chirag Paswan that caused the JD(U) to lose its status of the senior coalition partner after the 2020 assembly elections. Although Tyagi did not say it in as many words, it has been an overriding sentiment in the JD(U) rank and file that Chirag had launched his rebellion against the Bihar CM with the tacit approval of the BJP.
The son of LJP founder Ram Vilas Paswan and president of the party until its split last year, Chirag had been a self-proclaimed loyalist of Prime Minister Narendra Modi whom he used to liken to Lord Ram while comparing himself to Hanuman in terms of devotion. Incidentally, now left in the lurch by the BJP, which has embraced his renegade uncle Pashupati Kumar Paras and made him a Union minister, Chirag has since fallen apart with the BJP and was also sharply critical of Agnipath’ scheme.
The BJP, which dreads the possibility of losing out Kumar to the opposition camp in a state where it is yet to come in its own, seems to be in a mood to mend fences. "Everything is fine. Now there are no problems. All our grievances have been addressed," said state BJP president Sanjay Jaiswal whose house was last week attacked by protesting mobs following which he accused the administration of being complicit.
JD(U) national president, Rajiv Ranjan Singh alias Lalan, flew off the handle in response, accusing Jaiswal of having lost his mental balance and trying to advise a seasoned administrator like Nitish Kumar. A several-term MP who became the state president three years ago, Jaiswal has been adopting a stance on issues like Bihar’s population growth and its poor development indices as highlighted by Niti Aayog, which provoke the JD(U), making its leaders suspect that the ally was out to berate its leader.
Veteran BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi, who has served as Kumar’s deputy for more than a decade, and remains the only leader in the party whom the CM is said to have trusted fully, expresses vexation over the current situation. "This war of words must come to an end on both sides. I do not have an iota of doubt that this coalition will last its full five-year term. But the spat sends out wrong signals," he said.Notably, the opposition RJD has of late been a bit softer than earlier towards Kumar, in what is seen as an obvious attempt to fish in the NDA’s troubled waters.