Another couple of hints appeared this week about the possible merger of Nitish Kumar's JDU into Tejashwi Yadav-led RJD — one in speech, the other in text.
“Ab isko badhaava dena hai (It's time for him to be pushed forward),” Chief Minister Kumar said to reporters on Monday, pointing towards his deputy, Tejashwi Yadav.
While some saw mere affection — Tejashwi Yadav calls Mr Kumar;‘chacha' (uncle) for being an old associate of his father Lalu Prasad Yadav — the statement has to be seen in political context, when efforts are on to build a united national opposition against the BJP.
Tejashwi Yadav may be the deputy in government, but his party is the majority partner in the Mahagathbandhan, the Grand Alliance revived recently after Nitish Kumar dumped the BJP.
The RJD is, in fact, the single largest party in the Bihar assembly.
With 32-year-old Tejashwi Yadav “pushed forward” in Bihar, Nitish Kumar, 71, may be looking at an eventual national role that he's been trying to cultivate. He denies it overtly, but he is among the few non-Congress leaders being seen as candidates against PM Narendra Modi for 2024.
The other hint of merger came from a poster tweeted by JDU chief Rajiv Ranjan Singh alias Lalan on October 30, the 19th foundation day of the party.
It speaks of development with “social justice”, a buzzword that finds repeated mention in the RJD's pitch for rights to the historically backward and oppressed classes.
जनता दल (यूनाइटेड) के 19वें स्थापना दिवस के शुभ अवसर पर बिहार व देशभर के कार्यकर्ता साथियों एवं आदरणीय नेता श्री @NitishKumar जी को हृदय से बधाई, आभार एवं अनंत शुभकामनाएं।— Rajiv Ranjan (Lalan) Singh (@LalanSingh_1) October 30, 2022
सब मिलकर "सामाजिक न्याय के साथ विकास" की त्वरित गति में बिहार को विकसित प्रदेश बनाकर रहेंगे। pic.twitter.com/Dl4WDbDaoc
The RJD has already spoken of a larger social alliance. The party traditionally counts the Yadav-Muslim vote as its core. And Tejashwi Yadav recently told party workers to respect and embrace the Extremely Backward Castes too, seen as Nitish Kumar's core vote. These communities together form a major part of the state's electorate.
Tejashwi Yadav made the “social unity” pitch at the RJD national meet in Delhi, where the first hints of merger came up as well. A resolution was passed that only the the Yadav father-son can take decisions about the name and symbol of the RJD.
Merger talk isn't new for the erstwhile Janata Dal leaders, many of whom emerged from the Emergency of 1975 and found their feet during the caste assertion of 1990s. Ambition meant they ended up with their own regional outfits.
In 2015, when the Mahgathbandhan was first formed, Lalu Yadav and Nitish Kumar were keen to merge their parties into UP-based Samajwadi Party. But a consensus couldn't be reached with Mulayam Singh Yadav, then head of the Samajwadi Party.
Lalu Yadav eventually took a backseat due to court cases and health problems. Nitish Kumar had walked out of the Grand Alliance anyway in 2017.
Now that he's back, he is apparently fine with a merger for a clear division of labour between the chacha-bhatija— Tejashwi Yadav for Bihar, Nitish Kumar for Lok Sabha 2024.
While the RJD and JDU have not said anything officially yet, rival BJP says the merger is "inevitable" due to Nitish Kumar's "compulsions" as he is "beholden to the RJD".
BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi today said in Gopalganj that Nitish Kumar will "step aside" for Tejashwi Yadav "but is likely to get the post of national president of the newly formed outfit".