Two days after the Janata Dal (United) expelled vice-president Prashant Kishor and national spokesperson Pavan Verma, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar is facing uncomfortable questions about his party’s equation with larger ally Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
While sacking the two leaders, who had for weeks been openly criticising the party’s support for the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), JDU national spokesperson K.C.Tyagi said in a statement their actions were “clearly in violation of party discipline”.
But the move, which comes months before the Bihar assembly elections later this year, has strengthened the perception that the JD(U) chief is unwilling to risk offending the BJP, with whom it’s currently in seat-sharing discussions.
“JD(U)’s party constitution vows for secularism and these leaders were asking how you deviated from it. It was an uncomfortable question for Nitish. What would he have done? He sacked them,” said veteran politician Shivanand Tiwari, who was expelled from the JD(U) in 2014, months ahead of the Lok Sabha election that brought Narendra Modi to power for the first time. Tiwari later rejoined the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), which he had left in 2006 for the JD(U).
While Nitish has for long had a rocky relationship with the BJP—he famously left the NDA in 2013 over Modi’s prime ministerial ambitions, only to return in 2017 after ditching ally RJD—he now seems to have backed himself into a corner by allowing the larger partner to call the shots.
His off-the-cuff remark on Tuesday that he agreed to let Kishor join the party because of Amit Shah’s request didn’t help matters either.
After the BJP’s mammoth win in the 2019 general election, its smaller regional allies have been trying to hold their flock together and ensure they have some voice within the NDA. The BJP recently faced a blow in Maharashtra when its refusal to concede any ground to Shiv Sena drove the Uddhav Thackeray-led party to the Congress and NCP.
The JD(U) itself decided not to join the Union government in 2019 because it was reportedly unhappy with the number of ministerial berths offered to it.
“To go with the BJP is Nitish’s last option because he can’t fight on his own. By leaving the Mahagathbandhan in 2017, he gave up all his options,” said Tiwari.
The BJP, however, was quick to deny that Nitish wasn’t in charge in Bihar.
“Nitish Kumar is leading our coalition in Bihar. He is an NDA leader in Bihar and at the helm of affairs,” said Nikhil Anand, BJP’s Bihar unit spokesperson.
Anand alleged that Kishor’s behaviour was “immature” and “non-political” and that he was a “businessman” who works for political leaders who hire him.
“He did not respect the hierarchy of his own party. He has no political worth in Bihar. If he says he has any political worth here, then he should contest the Panchayat election from his own village and show us if he has any political clout here,” he said.
HuffPost India has reached out to Kishor and will update this story if he responds.
Kishor, ironically, first hit the national limelight because of the BJP and Modi—he was credited as the man behind Modi’s political makeover in the run-up to the 2014 election and was hailed as a genius strategist after helping Nitish win the 2015 Bihar election against the BJP.
While there were some failures along the way (notably the 2017 Uttar Pradesh election, where Kishor’s IPAC was hired by the Congress), his scorecard as a strategist is mostly filled with wins. He’s currently working with the Aam Aadmi Party on the Delhi assembly election.
Nitish not brooking dissent?
Most political observers had expected JD(U) to come down heavily on both Varma and Kishor after they publicly aired their displeasure with Nitish. Both had been trading barbs with the Nitish camp for a couple of weeks now, ever since the party supported the CAA in Parliament.
But the list of political leaders who Nitish has fallen out with is a long one. It has RJD chief Lalu Prasad’s name at the top and includes former JD(U) president Sharad Yadav and former Bihar chief minister Jitanram Manjhi.
Tiwari, who alleges he was sacked without even getting a show-cause notice, said it is impossible to stay in JD(U) after speaking up against Nitish.
JDU’s Bihar unit spokesperson Sunil Singh and Ajay Alok did not respond when tried to reach out fo their comments.