The race for the leadership of a Federal Front took a significant turn during the week as Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar emerged as the front runner and could possibly be the principal challenger to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2024.
Nitish not only upstaged the BJP which was perhaps planning to break his party on the lines of what it did in Maharashtra by splitting the Shiv Sena and appointing Eknath Shinde, but has surged ahead of Mamata Banerjee for the top slot of the proposed Federal Front.
If sources are to be believed, Nitish had got wind of the BJP blue print to entice many of his party MLAs through his once trusted confidant R.C.P. Singh and hurriedly patched up with old friend and foe, Lalu Prasad Yadav by extending an olive branch to him.
According to the political grapevine, R.C.P. Singh was in constant touch with two Union Ministers and was plotting to oust his benefactor from the office. Nitish, apparently, without letting him know that he was aware of the conspiracy, invited him and presented him with a new phone on the pretext that his earlier phone had been outdated.
Grateful for the gift, R.C.P. Singh never realised that there was an app that had been placed in the phone which allowed the special branch to access his WhatsApp chats and conversations. Once he had the proof of the betrayal, Nitish called up Home Minister Amit Shah, who was visiting Patna earlier in the month, and told him that he would send him incriminating evidence of his party’s conspiracy to replace him.
Shah did not believe him but Nitish had already got into the act. The reaching out to Lalu Prasad Yadav took place following a chance meeting of RJD MP, Manoj Jha and JD(U) president Lalan Singh at the Delhi airport after their flight to Patna had been delayed.
The two spoke candidly with each other and Manoj Jha assured Lalan Singh that they could still work together. Once in Patna, Nitish was brought into the loop and he went to visit Lalu Yadav after he had injured himself. Subsequently, he also met Tejashwi Yadav during an Eid related function where certain details were discussed.
Sources said that the arrangement reached between the two leaders was that Nitish would remain Chief Minister till 2024, when he would contest for Lok Sabha to be a probable contender to challenge Narendra Modi. At this stage, Tejashwi would be appointed the Chief Minister, thus cementing the alliance even further. It was also decided that an attempt would be made to reach out to the constituents of the original Janata Dal and even leaders such as Naveen Patnaik and H.D. Deva Gowda would also be approached besides others such as Akhilesh Yadav and Jayant Chaudhury.
The new proposed front will have the erstwhile socialists as the pivot and would later enlarge their base by including others who may like to join them. Nitish would be an acceptable face because of his seniority and experience and thus the main leader of the proposed front.
The development also coincides with Mamata Banerjee’s position being shaken following the Partha Chatterjee episode, which has left her both vulnerable and an easy target for the BJP. She has apparently softened her attitude towards Modi and recently in an interview to a Bengali newspaper, she told the correspondent that the Prime Minister was extremely fond of Mishti Doi and his favourite dish was Pista flavoured sweets which were sugarless.
Mamata further said that peacock green was Modi’s favoured colour and she had in the past gifted him with a peacock green shawl from Kalighat.
Earlier Mamata during her visit to Delhi had a meeting with her close coterie which includes Sudhanshu Shekhar Roy, Sudip Bandyopadhyay and Abhishek Banerjee amongst others. She castigated all of them and told them that their mishandling of the Partha Chatterjee affair had put her in a spot.
Without sparing any words, she told her colleagues that the Partha Chatterjee scandal was not the handiwork of the BJP, but of her own partymen, who had become over ambitious. She said that the tearing hurry in which Partha was thrown out was something he would find it difficult to digest.
She said that the party should have defended him in order to pacify him. However, now there was every possibility that Partha could become an approver in the case and put her and others in serious trouble. The inability of senior leaders to contain the damage had affected her political future. She told Abhishek that he should ponder why people in the state call him Mr 10 Per Cent. In order to defend herself, she may be compelled to bend towards Modi.
In a related development, Abhishek told the Bengali newspaper not to publish the interview by the Chief Minister and when this was brought to the notice of Mamata Banerjee, she asked the correspondent to dilute certain portions. The correspondent had earlier told her that she had invited him for a conversation and the interview was not at his request.
Meanwhile, political activity in the Opposition ranks has gained momentum. In Maharashtra, many breakaway Shiv Sena MPs and leaders are finding it difficult to go to their constituencies. In Karnataka, Siddaramaiah and D.K. Shiv Kumar are jostling for being the principal challengers to the BJP, while in the saffron brigade there is a growing demand to ease out Basavaraj Bommai. Interesting times. Between us.