Seduction of Nitish
FM Arun Jaitley and Sushil Modi pave the way for Nitish’s return
Party president Amit Shah has driven most recent expansion moves in the BJP, but though he was briefed on the developments, it was finance minister Arun Jaitley and Sushil Modi who executed one of the biggest political coups in recent times.
Nitish had walked out of the NDA in 2013, to protest the anointment of Narendra Modi as the BJP’s campaign chief for the 2014 LS polls. The grapevine is that both Prime Minister Modi and Shah believed that Modi ignited Nitish’s aspirations to be PM. But any such ambition to become PM with the support of the ‘third front’ must have waned with the fall of the Janata parivar and the resurgence of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh.
Jaitley had kept in touch with Nitish despite his bitter exit. The FM would host Nitish for a meal every time he visited Delhi. Even when political temperatures ran high, Nitish would support Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal’s jibes against the PM, but not against Jaitley.
Meanwhile, Sushil Modi, thanks to his proximity to Jaitley and top RSS leaders, managed to convince Modi-Shah of his allegations against Lalu. The grapevine in Patna is that two top JD(U) leaders gave him most of the documents, something he neither denies nor accepts. The allegations he made resulted in the CBI, ED and the I-T department investigating Lalu and his family. The ED and I-T departments report to the Jaitley-led finance ministry.
On July 22, Nitish was the only CM from the opposition parties to attend the farewell dinner the prime minister hosted for outgoing President Pranab Mukherjee. On the sidelines of this dinner, Nitish was tipped off about a plot by some RJD leaders to split the JD(U), possibly leading to his ouster. Earlier, too, say BJP insiders, two RJD MPs ap-
proached the BJP leadership with an offer to destabilise the Nitish government in return for ‘help’ in the benami cases against Lalu’s kin. “These leaders met the party leadership twice. Their offer was not only rejected, but Kumar was also informed beforehand,” says a party insider. Meanwhile, in the course of the dinner, Nitish was assured of BJP support if he moved out of the grand alliance. He did exactly that. And it was Sushil Modi, not state BJP chief Nityanand Rai that Shah called up on July 26 to rally the support of BJP MLAs for Nitish.
Writing on the wall
Nitish had been sulking since September last year when the Patna High Court granted musclemanturned-politician Mohammad Shahabuddin bail and the MP from Siwan came out saying Nitish was only “a leader of circumstance”. Suspicion was rife that the RJD chief had a hand in the don’s release. Nor did Lalu say anything to dismiss Shahabuddin’s jibe. Later, the apex court cancelled Shahabuddin’s bail and he was back in jail.
But the episode was a big jolt to Nitish, a stickler for his image as someone who had demolished jungle raj in the state. Then came reports of ministers from the RJD
quota taking instructions from Lalu—even for the administrative affairs—rather than him. “All this was enough to make one feel uncomfortable,” says a JD(U) MP.
In November, when Nitish expressed approval of demonetisation, Jaitley lost no time calling him. An offer was made to Nitish to return to the NDA even then, say BJP insiders. “But he didn’t respond at the time.” He also made several flip-flops in the ensuing months. If he shared warm vibes and the dais with PM Modi on January 5 at Guru Gobind Singh’s 350th birthday celebrations at Patna Sahib; on February 10, at the release of former finance minister P. Chidambaram’s book Fearless in Opposition, he not only talked of the unity in opposition but also asked Rahul Gandhi (sitting in the audience) to set the agenda. At the same event, Nitish also denied reports of meeting Shah at a BJP Rajya Sabha MP’s residence in Patna a month earlier.
On July 7, the CBI raided Lalu’s residence in Patna, something, BJP insiders say, Nitish was informed of beforehand by the PMO. On July 26, Lalu made it clear his son Tejashwi would not resign as deputy CM. “By then,” says a top BJP leader, “Nitish had already made up his mind.”
Sworn friends Nitish and Sushil Kumar Modi after their swearing-in