Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal United is in talks with smaller parties in Bihar, Jharkhand and poll bound Uttar Pradesh for a merger. The development follows the Bihar Chief Minister’s public display of camaraderie with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which had fuelled speculation that Nitish Kumar is keeping options open at a time Lalu Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal is known to be calling the shots in the three-party coalition government in the state, which includes the Congress.
Sources confirmed to The Sunday Guardian that Nitish Kumar and his close aide K.C. Tyagi, who is a JDU member in the Rajya Sabha, are discussing the modalities for unification with the Ajit Singh led Rashtriya Lok Dal, the Samajwadi Janata Party and Babulal Marandi’s Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik). “Negotiations are going on. There have been two rounds of talk with Ajit Singh. It will be too early to comment on the nature of the association but we are hopeful something will take place soon,” JDU MP Ali Anwar Ansari told this newspaper.
The larger ambition of the JDU is to consolidate its vote base in Jharkhand and UP, which will then pave the way to secure a respectable deal from the Congress in a future alliance. The JDU has a few pockets of presence in Jharkhand and it hopes that by joining hands with the JVMP, it will be able to influence a few constituencies. The JVMP is led by Jharkhand’s former Chief Minister Babulal Marandi, who walked out of the Bharatiya Janata Party several years ago and formed his own outfit. Nitish Kumar hopes that JDU and JVMP, as a combined force, will play a limited but definite role in the tribal majority state, encouraging an alliance with the Congress, which lost all of Jharkhand’s 14 Lok Sabha seats in the 2014 general elections despite being the second largest party after the BJP in terms of votes polled.
Similarly, in UP, Nitish Kumar is keen to reverse the party’s fortunes to the 1991 scenario, when the Janata Dal had 22 MPs. The Janata decline in UP began after Mulayam Singh Yadav and Chandra Shekhar parted ways along with V.P. Singh in 1991 and formed the Samajwadi Janata Party. The Janata Dal, later renamed Janata Dal United, had a steady decline since then, with only two MLAs left in the 2002 Assembly elections in the state. Nitish Kumar is trying to also rope in the Peace Party, which has some presence in eastern UP. By merging the RLD, which is influential in western UP and has nine seats, and the Peace Party, which has four seats, the JDU can increase its strength to 13 in the UP Assembly. The minority-dominated Peace Party will also enable the JDU to attract the minorities, which can again help it seal a pact with the Congress, which is looking at a combination of upper castes and Muslim votes for the 2017 Assembly elections in UP.
“We want to repeat the Bihar formula at the state level, and we are working to this end. We have realised the only way to give a fight to the BJP is by not letting the ‘secular’ votes split. Even smaller parties with some vote base make a big difference when they add up with a bigger party,” Ansari told this correspondent. He added: “In UP, we are eyeing Ajit Singh, Apna Dal, Peace Party. Once this materialises, we may get in touch with the Congress.”
Experts believe this is Nitish Kumar’s attempt to emerge as a non-Congress, non-BJP face ahead of the next general elections in 2019. Sources in the JDU said Nitish Kumar is aiming to secure a respectable tally for the JDU in the next Lok Sabha elections, so that he can attract regional parties across India to form a “third front”, with the Congress left with no option but to back his candidature as Prime Minister.
Sources said Nitish Kumar, JDU president Sharad Yadav and Ajit Singh had a closed door meeting at K.C. Tyagi’s residence in New Delhi this month. Nitish Kumar’s “former” election strategist Prahant Kishor was also said to be present in the meeting. “K.C. Tyagi had several rounds of discussion with Samajwadi Janata Party chief Kamal Morarka, while Nitish is directly talking to Babulal Marandi,” said a party functionary on condition of anonymity.
Significantly, Lalu Yadav’s RJD has been kept out of the loop, confirming the general perception that all is not well between the two allies. Nitish Kumar is trying to expand his vote base and help JDU emerge as the bigger of the two parties. Nitish Kumar’s party has 71 seats, while the RJD has 80 in the Bihar Assembly.
The developments made Rashtriya Lok Samata Party leader Rajiv K. Jaiswal, who belongs to the opposition, comment: “Nitish Kumar is a clever person, always looking for options wherever possible. This has been his characteristic from the beginning. He also has bigger ambitions, so he wants to maintain a good rapport with all groups. It is a well thought of ploy by him to form small alliances in other states minus the RJD.”