Demonetisation Moves Nitish Kumar Closer to the BJP, Away From RJD
NEW DELHI: It is perhaps for the first time since the 2014 Lok Sabha elections that the entire Opposition is speaking with one voice against the demonetisation move by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Rare unity is being seen in Parliament, and even on the streets, with the sole exception of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar who has emerged from a bitter battle with the BJP in the state elections last year to embrace the decision with, "Prime Minister Modi is now riding a tiger which could damage his alliances, but there's great sentiment in favour of his move and we should respect that.”
The Janata Dal (United) leader has stirred a hornet’s nest with these appreciative remarks, and while the murmurings remain at the level of a buzz in the ear the BJP and the Opposition parties are closely examining the possibility of Kumar positively eyeing a renewed alliance with the BJP in the state. And perhaps even at the Centre, moved by his desire to get away from the current tensions with Bihar coalition partner Rashtriya Janata Dal.’
That the “damage” that Nitish Kumar referred to in the above remarks will first hit his own party is almost certain with Rajya Sabha MP Sharad Yadav clearly moving with the Opposition parties on this issue. Kumar who had been looking at the Prime Minister’s post, has stayed away from the fracas over the last two weeks, breaking his silence only in support of PM Modi. Sharad Yadav, on the other hand, has been working closely with the Opposition parties in and outside Parliament in attacking the government on this issue, and recently addressed a meeting in Delhi organised by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in which the Prime Minister was strongly attacked for the distress caused to the common person.
Significantly, both Kumar and Yadav have remained silent about each other with the ordinary JD(U) legislator not really sure now where to place him or herself on this. As a senior JD(U) worker told The Citizen, “we are just keeping quiet now and waiting to see where this goes.” He agreed, like most others in the party, that the poor in Bihar were distressed and facing considerable difficulty. But quickly added, that the Chief Minister had spoken of this, and urged the government to ensure that the implementation of the demonetisation was smooth.
The Janata Dal(U) is in denial mode at the moment on two fronts. One, that Nitish Kumar is moving towards the BJP; and two, that there is any split in the party. On the last, the party leaders insist, that Sharad Yadav is also speaking more about the implementation and is one with Nitish Kumar on the soundness of the move. However, this does not seem to hold out as Sharad Yadav has been vocal in the Upper House, and his decision to speak at the Trinamool Congress meet in Delhi against demonetisation is seen by the Opposition as an endorsement of its stand in Parliament. Interestingly Trinamool Congress leaders have been scathing in their attack on PM Modi with MP Derek O Brien mincing no words in the Rajya Sabha today while the Prime Minister listened quietly.
The united decision by the Opposition not to carry on with the discussion on demonetisation until and unless PM Modi showed the necessary respect to the Rajya Sabha by sitting through the debate had him making an appearance for a short while before the lunch break. He did not come back when the House reconvened leading the Opposition members to stall the proceedings yet again.
Given this sharp Opposition versus Government logjam on demonetisation Nitish Kumar, who has ambitions of becoming the Prime Minister, has raised eyebrows with his decision to support PM Modi publicly. The BJP leaders in Bihar are spreading the rumour that is the first step by the Bihar CM to join hands with the BJP again.
Sources said that the only plausible explanation for this are the sharp differences between Kumar and his ally in government, Lalu Prasad Yadav and his Rashtriya Janata Dal. Both contested the elections together and won almost an equal number of seats. Nitish Kumar became the Chief Minister, as per the agreement, but since then has been facing considerable dissent from within. The RJD leader is said to be determined to make his son the Chief Minister and over the past few months, has unleashed his two lieutenants namely Shahabuddin and Raghuvansh Prasad to attack Nitish Kumar at different levels.
“Nitishji seems to have had enough, and clearly wants to get away from Lalu and his brigade,” the sources said. According to some who know him well, Nitish Kumar is using the issue to establish himself as a clean politician, and do so by distancing himself from Lalu Prasad Yadav and his set of supporters whose reputation on the financial front has always been questionable.
As the sources said, “whether this will drive him to the BJP is not clear at this stage, but yes Nitishji seems to have had enough of the RJD and its continuous attack on him.” Besides questions have been raised about the Chief Minister’s integrity by the BJP that is in the Opposition in Bihar and that according to his supporters, “has upset him.”
At the moment, however, the JD(U) members are taking the position that they are playing the role of a “constructive opposition” and there is no question of moving to the BJP. RJD leaders are not so sure, and as a senior Lalu supporter told The Citizen, “Nitishji seems to be going out of his way to praise the Prime Minister. Why? The people are angry and agitated, the distress is so visible and yet he continues to say all is well. Strange and certainly not expected of him.”