The public display of bonhomie between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar during the former’s visit to the state last week has left Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad Yadav worried. Sources said that though there was no threat to the “Grand Alliance” in Bihar as of now, Nitish Kumar, who heads the Janata Dal United, deliberately displayed “warmth” towards PM Modi at the inauguration of a railway bridge to send out the subtle message that he was keeping his options “open” in case the alliance government of JDU-RJD-Congress faced troubles in the future.
“Trouble has been simmering within the alliance. Nitish Kumar is not getting a free hand because of interference by Lalu Yadav on many issues. There have been instances when Nitish Kumar shot down Lalu’s suggestions or proposals. By being warms towards Modi, Nitish has tried to give a message to Lalu that nobody is indispensable. This has made the latter a bit uncomfortable,” said a source.
The BJP-led NDA government at the Centre too has responded positively to Nitish Kumar’s gesture of receiving the PM warmly at the function. In fact, this newspaper has information that this week, Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari has more or less cleared a long-pending expansion of the Mahatma Gandhi Setu, a bridge which connects north Bihar to south. Gadkari has assured the Bihar CM of every help from the ministry for the project, costing Rs 2,000 crore.
The RJD has downplayed the matter by saying that PM Modi and CM Nitish Kumar let “general courtesy” decide their behaviour. The party also said that no political colour should be given to the “bonhomie” displayed by the PM and the CM. The party rubbished reports of “differences” within the Grand Alliance. “This is just a canard. Our alliance is firm and the coalition government is running quite smoothly,” said senior RJD leader and spokesperson Chitranjan Gagan.
Gagan also claimed that Lalu and Nitish were on the same page on major policy decisions. “There is no misunderstanding. As regards the possibility of JDU returning to the NDA fold in the future, this is not going to happen as both Nitishji and Laluji are products of the same JP movement and they are socialists by character. Therefore, JDU and RJD are natural allies. JDU walked out of NDA because the alliance between JDU and BJP was unnatural.”
In an Assembly of 243 seats, RJD has 81 MLAs, while the JDU has 70 and Congress 27. The BJP, which was JDU’s alliance partner until three years ago, has 53 MLAs. The combined strength of the JDU and BJP is 123, one more than what is required for a simple majority.
On his first visit to Bihar after the BJP’s defeat in last year’s Assembly elections, Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar were seen together on a common platform. Both praised each other. The PM also referred to Nitish as “mera mitra”. He then criticised the RJD chief and the Congress for blocking development projects in Bihar.