Ni­tish Keeps the Congress In­ter­ested

As the BJP flexes its mus­cle, the wily Bi­har CM looks at keep­ing his 2020 op­tions open

India Today - - STATES - By Amitabh Sri­vas­tava

When Rahul Gandhi vis­ited Patna on July 6 in con­nec­tion with a court case, he made an un­sched­uled stopover at a restau­rant where he or­dered an onion dosa and cof­fee. So hap­pens that both the restau­rant and the dish are known to be well­loved by the Bi­har chief min­is­ter as well. The coin­ci­dence was too rich to ig­nore, and soon be­came a talk­ing point in the state cap­i­tal.

“Whether it’s dosa or sec­u­lar­ism, it’s clear that Ni­tish and Rahul share the same tastes,” quipped a state Congress leader. On the face of it, the po­lit­i­cal di­vide is clear. The National Demo­cratic Al­liance (NDA), con­sist­ing of the BJP, the Janata Dal (United) and the Lok Jan­shakti Party (LJP), bagged 39 of Bi­har’s 40 Lok Sabha seats. On the other side, the Congress took the lone re­main­ing seat.

How­ever, with both the Congress and the JD(U) pub­licly spar­ring with their re­spec­tive al­liance

THE CONGRESS AND RJD ARE FAC­ING A “CON­FI­DENCE DEFICIT” NOW

partners of late, Bi­har’s po­lit­i­cal cir­cles are agog with spec­u­la­tion about a pos­si­ble deal be­tween the two par­ties be­fore the 2020 as­sem­bly elec­tion.

A sec­tion of Congress leg­is­la­tors have been bait­ing al­liance part­ner Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) scion Te­jashwi Ya­dav with talk that he “follow Rahul Gandhi’s foot­steps” (mean­ing quit the post of Leader of the Op­po­si­tion), a sug­ges­tion Lalu Prasad Ya­dav’s son has not taken well. At least twice he has spo­ken out against those spread­ing sto­ries about his lust for power. “There’s a con­fi­dence deficit be­tween the Congress and the RJD. Rahul was in Patna and no­body from the RJD’s first fam­ily even thought of meet­ing him,” says a top Congress leader. Ni­tish’s JD(U), mean­while, had re­fused to join the Naren­dra Modi govern­ment at the Cen­tre, much to the cha­grin of the BJP.

While the marginalis­ed Congress’s in­ter­est is un­der­stand­able, why would the JD(U), well­en­trenched in the NDA, think of up­set­ting a win­ning com­bi­na­tion? “We do not have any im­me­di­ate rea­sons, but the Congress can be part of a Plan B if such a sit­u­a­tion arises,” says a JD(U) leader.

With the BJP, it will al­ways be a chal­lenge for Ni­tish to have the up­per hand. In past elec­tions, the JD(U) had al­ways con­tested and won more seats. But the seat dis­tri­bu­tion in the re­cent Lok Sabha elec­tion, where the two par­ties con­tested an equal num­ber of seats, and the re­sults—the BJP won all its 17 Lok Sabha seats—have put the saf­fron party on an equal foot­ing with the JD(U) in Bi­har. This is some­thing Ni­tish will not be com­fort­able with.

TWO’S COM­PANY? File photo of Ni­tish Ku­mar with Rahul Gandhi in Patna

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