Se­duc­tion of Ni­tish

FM Arun Jait­ley and Sushil Modi pave the way for Ni­tish’s re­turn

India Today - - BIG STORY | LALU - —Anilesh S. Ma­ha­jan

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.”

PTI

Sworn friends Ni­tish and Sushil Ku­mar Modi af­ter their swear­ing-in

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