- Bihar Chief Minister indicated he'll campaign for Saryu Rai in Jharkhand
- Saryu Rai is contesting against Chief Minister Raghubar Das of the BJP
- Nitish Kumar is an ally of the BJP
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, a BJP ally, will extend support to the man who is challenging Raghubar Das - Chief Minister of neighbouring Jharkhand - in the coming state elections. Mr Kumar's party, the Janata Dal United, has also indicated that he might personally campaign for Saryu Rai.
Saryu Rai, a minister in Raghubar Das's cabinet and one of the most prominent faces of the BJP in the state, decided to contest against him after being denied ticket. Party sources said the Chief Minister had reservations about his candidature due to his role in busting various scams including the fodder scam in undivided Bihar and later, the 800-crore mining scam in Jharkhand.
Mr Kumar, a college mate of Saryu Rai, has not only openly supported him but might also seek votes for him, party said.
"Saryu Rai always struggles against corruption and even though he was part of the government, always raised the voice against corruption over the last five years," Rajiv Ranjan, leader of JDU parliamentary party in the Lok Sabha said at a press conference in Ranchi today.
"I feel that because he launched a crusade against corruption, he was denied ticket and now he has decided to conduct a symbolic fight against Chief Minister Raghubar Das. So Janata Dal United welcomes his move and supports him," he added.
Asked if Nitish Kumar would campaign for Mr Rai, Rajiv Ranjan said, "If Saryu Rai requests Nitish Kumar then we all will request Nitish-ji to go and campaign... we all will campaign if Saryu Rai requires our presence".
While the JDU has little support in Jharkhand and the move will be mostly symbolic, it is likely to create ripples on the national level, marking an instance where Mr Kumar, a BJP ally, has taken a stance against BJP interest.
Criticism of the BJP is also implicit in Mr Kumar's support to Mr Rai. While the BJP has been contesting elections since the 2014 national election on an anti-corruption theme, Raghubar Das has denied ticket to the state's best-known anti-corruption crusader.
The man behind exposing fodder and bitumen scam in undivided Bihar, Mr Rai had questioned his own government's decision to renew the leases of 105 mines in January 2017. He had walked out of the meeting, sarcastically saying that if the CBI ever probes the move, he does not want to go jail.
He also exposed Jharkhand's mining scam, in which mines were leased illegally in exchange of bribes during the two-year tenure of Madhu Koda from 2006 to 2008.
The rift between Nitish Kumar and the BJP has been increasingly visible since the JDU was denied more than a token representation in the Union government. Last month, leaders of the BJP had stayed away from a Dusshera function in Patna that was attended by the Chief Minister.