Agencies: The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) raids at properties of Lalu Prasad Yadav and his family in 12 locations over alleged corruption charges (irregularities in awarding tenders for maintenance of IRCTC hotels in Ranchi and Puri in 2006 when he was the railway minister) have revived speculations of a possible break in Bihar’s grand alliance, which includes RJD, JD(U) and Congress. The BJP leaders have given the clarion call for Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar to break the alliance with Lalu.
Many television presenters as well as commentators have already been upbeat that Nitish will soon announce to the world that he is set to dump Lalu and embrace the BJP.
There were similar excited speculations in the media when the Income Tax department raided 22 locations related to Lalu’s family in May this year as part of its investigation into almost a dozen Benami property deals. That time too, there were many, including those in the BJP, who had urged Nitish to walk out of the three-party grand alliance and once again embrace the BJP, with which it had cohabited for 17 years before the split in 2013.
What has been the basis of such speculations? Many believe that Nitish is a rare political leader from the Indian perspective, apart from the possible exception of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who would not brook corruption of any kind just to remain in power. But the question is, if Nitish was genuinely averse to corruption, then why did he sew up the alliance with Lalu for the Assembly election in 2015?
Let us also not forget that the same Nitish had relentlessly inveighed against corruption and jungle raj of Lalu and his family for more than 15 years. But in the aftermath of the 2014 Lok Sabha election in which both the JD(U) and RJD were decimated by the BJP, Nitish had no qualms about joining hands with Lalu to keep the BJP at bay and capture power in Bihar.
If you compare the scenario then and now, between 2015 and 2017, nothing substantial has changed. True, the Income Tax and CBI raids this year have added a new dimension to the corruption charges against Lalu and his family. However, one must accept that these charges are mere allegations by the investigative agencies and have not yet been substantiated by any court of law.
However, before 2015, the indictment of Lalu in the fodder scam cases had gone through a series of court appraisals. He had spent a considerable time in jail, even prior to the apex court finally giving its stamp of approval to the corruption charges. After the Supreme Court verdict, Lalu lost his Lok Sabha seat and he was debarred from contesting elections for the next six years.
If Nitish could embrace such a tainted man in 2015 with a straight face, why would he be troubled by the IT department and the CBI, which have been carrying out raids at the properties of Lalu and his family?
Hopes have arisen in some hearts because Nitish broke ranks with the Congress and the RJD by supporting Ram Nath Kovind, NDA’s presidential candidate. Nitish’s decision gives them a feeling that he is gradually drifting away from Lalu and preparing the ground for a reunion with the BJP.
What adds strength to such speculation is Nitish’s unstinted support to Modi government’s twin controversial decisions last year, the surgical strike across the Line of Control and demonetisation.
While the Congress and the RJD were engaged in puncturing the claims made by the Union government on the outcome of the aerial raids on Pakistani targets, Nitish commended the action in no uncertain terms. Striking a discordant note with all Opposition parties, Nitish had also hailed the demonetisation move as a salutary measure to fight corruption.
Nitish has time and again asserted that he has a mind of his own and that he did not believe in herd mentality. As he has said again and again, he does not want to blindly support or oppose a policy or a person because of political associations.
Despite these assertions, he is an astute politician and knows that he has to play his cards carefully to ensure his political interests are not adversely affected by his contrarian decisions.
Let’s take the case of his support for Kovind. As the governor of Bihar, Kovind had struck a cordial relationship with the Modi government. Even the BJP leaders in Bihar had expected the governor to red flag some of the draconian provisions of the liquor prohibition ordinance that the Nitish government had recommended. However, the governor refused to place any road block in putting into operation the prohibition regime.