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