While the buzz around the possibility of friends-turned-foes Janata Dal (United) and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) once again coming together to form the government in Bihar is gaining ground, not many remember that the two explored a similar patch-up in 2018 too. However, lack of mutual trust, especially with JDU patriarch and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s image of an untrustworthy ally, ensured that the deal could not reach fruition.
Will it finally happen this time around is the million dollar question.
In the summer of 2018, an edgy Nitish, upset with the BJP over various reasons, including the BJP leadership’s perceived big-brother attitude, had reached out to Lalu Prasad Yadav-led RJD to explore the possibility of the two parties coming together. Simply put, Nitish proposed the revival of the mahagatbandhan or the ‘grand alliance’ of JDU, RJD and Congress formed before the 2015 Bihar Assembly elections.
Just like now, even then, the JDU was ruling Bihar in alliance with the BJP, having ended its pre-poll alliance with RJD in 2017 over alleged corruption charges against the RJD leaders. Within months of re-joining hands with BJP and with less than a year to go for the general elections of 2019, Nitish was desperate to break his alliance with the saffron party.
But to be able to do so, without losing power in the state, he needed RJD. And that is where he faltered. Lalu Prasad’s family, especially his wife Rabri Devi and younger son Tejashwi, who was earlier deputy Chief Minister in the mahagathbandhan government, were bitterly opposed to any deal with Nitish, whom they held responsible for the extended prison time for Lalu Yadav.
Surprisingly, Sharad Yadav, once close to Nitish Kumar and who had also had a bitter falling-out with the Bihar Chief Minister, was a strong votary of reviving the mahagatbandhan, as was the Congress, which was earlier part of the mahagathbandhan and which was actually the driving force behind the scenes, trying to broker peace between the two regional parties.
After several rounds of meetings, where Nitish, finding himself cornered, even offered to sacrifice the post of Chief Minister for a mutually-agreeable candidate, only to find his overtures being rebuffed.
Like yesterday, when he was only the second Chief Minister, the other being Telangana Chief Minister K Chandreshkhar Rao (KCR), to boycott the meeting of the Governing Council of the NITI Aayog where Prime Minister Narendra Modi was also present, in 2018, Nitish was the only NDA ally not to participate in the international Yoga Day event. He had also spoken out against Assam’s Citizenship Bill and the Centre’s demonetisation move.
However, after the RJD refused to play ball, the move fell through. It remains to be seen if he will be lucky a second time.