Rahul Gandhi curtly turned down Nitish Kumar’s proposal that Tejashwi Yadav should be removed as Bihar’s Deputy Chief Minister, when the JDU leader met him on 22 July, top Congress sources revealed to The Sunday Guardian. The sources added that the Congress vice-president was aware of Nitish’s backdoor hobnobbing with the leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party, but “continued to side with the Rashtriya Janata Dal” in the political impasse that eventually saw the Bihar Chief Minister exiting the Grand Alliance on Wednesday and forming a new government with his erstwhile ally, the BJP.

“When Nitish Kumar met Rahul Gandhi in New Delhi, he clearly told him that he would continue with the Grand Alliance in Bihar, but under the condition that Rahul helped him get rid of Tejashwi Yadav as his deputy and also ensure that no other Lalu Yadav kin, in particular Lalu’s daughter Misa Bharti, took over as Tejashwi’s replacement,” a Congress insider told this reporter.

This newspaper earlier reported that Nitish Kumar had conveyed to Congress president Sonia Gandhi that not only Tejashwi Yadav, Bihar’s then Deputy CM and Lalu Yadav’s younger son, would have to resign, but that Nitish Kumar would also not accept RJD MP Misa Bharti as Tejashwi’s replacement (Nitish vetoes Lalu kin as deputy, 16 July).

The source said that Rahul, who had been taking RJD’s side throughout, “refused to cooperate. He opposed any move that was aimed at removing Tejashwi from office. In the meeting, he came across as somebody who was more in support of Lalu than Nitish. Clearly, Nitish did not get the expected support from the Congress.”

The source also said that Nitish Kumar had, at least once, made an attempt to get an appointment with Sonia Gandhi, as he was more comfortable dealing with the Congress president than Rahul, but that the meeting could not happen as “Rahul had taken the full command of handling the Bihar crisis”. “Nitish Kumar, for some time, has been totally against Rahul Gandhi, seconding key Congress allies’ stand that Rahul Gandhi should not lead the UPA in 2019. He wanted to meet Sonia Gandhi, but somehow the meeting took place with Rahul instead, who treated him ‘coldly’,” the source said.

As the 16 July report had mentioned, “…the Congress president, who is determined not to let the Grand Alliance collapse and Nitish’s JDU join hands with old ally BJP again, has asked the Bihar CM to meet her in New Delhi…” The report had mentioned that Sonia Gandhi had told Lalu Yadav to soften his stand and consider dropping Tejashwi in order to placate Nitish. When asked whether the fact that Nitish Kumar was being increasingly seen as the joint face of the opposition for the 2019 general elections, could have influenced Rahul in not being keen about stopping him from joining hands with the BJP, the source said “it could be possible”.

After Nitish Kumar took oath on Thursday as Bihar Chief Minister with BJP’s Sushil Modi as his deputy, Rahul Gandhi stated to the media that he knew of the Bihar CM’s plan in advance. “In politics you come to know of what is going on in the minds of people. Clearly, I knew Nitishji is planning. We knew this was going on for the last three-four months… People do anything for their selfish motives. There is no principle, no credibility. They can do anything for power,” Rahul Gandhi said on Thursday.

CM Nitish Kumar has reserved his comments for a future date, pledging that he would “reply to all queries of Rahul Gandhi and others at the right time”.