Talks are going on with LJP and RLSP, say Bihar Congress sources.
The opposition Rashtriya Janata Dal and Congress in Bihar claim to have sent emissaries to Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to explore the possibility of restoring the erstwhile “grand alliance” in the state. Sources in the Bihar unit of the Congress also claim that back-channel talks are going on with Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) and Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samta Party (RLSP), both allies of the Bharatiya Janata Party. Sources say that while LJP and RLSP have sent “positive vibes” to the RJD-Congress, Nitish Kumar is “silent”. Sources in New Delhi confirmed that the political manoeuvres in Bihar have the blessings of both Rahul Gandhi and Tejashwi Yadav who want to cement an anti-BJP axis in the state ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
“We have approached Nitish Kumar to come back to the Congress-RJD fold ahead of 2019,” a top source in Bihar Pradesh Congress Committee told this reporter. He said that the RJD and Congress have advised Nitish Kumar to join their chorus for special status for Bihar and leave the NDA on that pretext, if the Centre fails to accommodate the demand.
“Nitish Kumar is an astute politician. He is aware that resentment is simmering within the LJP and RLSP, who feel sidelined by the BJP in every poll-related negotiation. He is watching the developments and has neither entertained nor dismissed our offer. If we are able to splinter the two smaller parties out of NDA’s fold, Nitish will not waste time in leaving a ‘cornered BJP’, especially when we have shown him the willingness to negotiate generously,” the source claimed.
Another source in the BPCC claimed that their overtures to Paswan’s LJP and Kushwaha’s RLSP have been greeted kindly by the BJP allies. “Talks are on with both Paswan and Kushwaha. They are aware that their chances of a respectable seat-sharing with the BJP are dismal. They have given us indications that there is scope for further talks. We are confident that once the opposition forges anti-BJP regional alliances in other states, they will join us,” the source said.
In recent times, Paswan and Kushwaha have been in news for expressing calculated resistance against the BJP. In April, Kushwaha said in an interview to an English daily that he thinks BJP “should have been more responsible” in the manner it handled the protests that followed the communal clashes in Bihar. He aroused speculation when he went to meet RJD president Lalu Yadav at AIIMS in the national capital on 30 March. Earlier, in January, he had spearheaded a state-wide human-chain in Bihar to press for the improvement of the standard of education. The non-participation of either the BJP or the JDU had made the fissures within the NDA apparent.
Paswan’s recent statements have been received with caution by the BJP and some degree of optimism by the Congress and RJD. The Dalit leader has told the media that the BJP was suffering because of the popular perception that it was anti-minority and anti-Dalit. Although he refrained from attacking the BJP over the communal clashes in Bihar, his statements have been read as a covert warning to his ally for “course-correction”.
Sources in the RJD and the Congress said that they have made this the rallying point of their negotiation with the LJP. “We have been trying to persuade him (Paswan) that if he continues with the BJP, he would lose the Dalit and a segment of the Muslim votes that constitute his social base. He has heard our arguments and has given us the space to continue the discussion,” a source told The Sunday Guardian.
The Congress had recently made Shaktisinh Gohil the state in-charge for Bihar. On Tuesday, it deputed two AICC secretaries—Virender Singh Rathore and Rajesh Lilothia—to Bihar. Sources said that the Delhi team has been specially tasked to engineer a split in the NDA.