The Mahagathbandhan ministry in Bihar led by Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar winning the confidence vote on Wednesday was a foregone conclusion given the arithmetic in the Legislative Assembly. But the event was made into a spectacle with the Central Bureau of Investigation conducting raids on the premises of the leaders of the Rashtriya Janata Dal in Bihar and Jharkhand during the day.
The Mahagathbandhan is an alliance of seven political parties with a combined strength of 164 in a House of 243 members and the Nitish Kumar ministry passed the test with 160 votes polled in its favour. Mr Kumar had a lot of explaining to do on his parting of ways with the BJP and he did it by blaming his former ally. He had been a respected partner in the National Democratic Alliance during the time of Atal Behari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani, he said, implying that the current dispensation had its own gameplan in which Mr Kumar is not a pivotal force. He also complained that state BJP leaders who kept cordial relations with him such as former deputy chief minister Sushil Modi were sidelined within their party. The socialist’s nostalgia about his days in the Sangh Parivar camp sounds ironical but politics is always the art of the possible. And Mr Kumar is a master in this art among the current crop of politicians.
Mr Kumar’s friend-turned-foe-turned-ally, the RJD, made the most of the CBI action against it. The raids were part of the federal agency’s investigation into allegations that members of the family of RJD patriarch Lalu Prasad got land in lieu of jobs he offered in the railways when he was helming it during the first edition of the United Progressive Alliance government. Tejashwi Yadav, party leader and deputy chief minister, was spot on when he said that the BJP lets loose three central agencies — the CBI, the Enforcement Directorate and the income tax department — when it cannot buy political opponents out. Mr Prasad was only reflecting the reality even though there are doubts if it works with every political opponent. Mr Prasad, for one, was nonchalant in the face of the raids.
But the CBI action against allegations of corruption by RJD leaders looked directed more against the chief minister than his deputy. Given the way the new alliance has started off, and the statements emanating from the two parties thence, it seems likely that the partners have settled on a plan by which Mr Kumar will be projected as the prime ministerial candidate of the combined Opposition and should it work, the RJD, the single largest party in the state Assembly, can lay claim to the chief minister’s post.
That’s not a scheme palpable to the NDA, and hence the decision to remind Mr Kumar of the circumstances that he cited when he ditched the Mahagathbandhan in 2017 — corruption charges against the RJD leaders. The BJP would like Mr Kumar to remember that he is not in the company of squeaky clean politicians and cannot flaunt his image as a warrior against corruption any more. Even if he has won the confidence vote, Mr Kumar has been told that the coming days won’t pass as smoothly as he had expected them to. The game in Bihar has only just begun.