Nitish Kumar's "Trust Deficit" With Ally BJP May Impact A Rajya Sabha Pick

Even though on record the Bihar Chief Minister says they are all working together, there's clearly a huge trust deficit.

Nitish Kumar's 'Trust Deficit' With Ally BJP May Impact A Rajya Sabha Pick

BJP leaders admit that Mr Kumar is restless and keeps expressing displeasure in public.


Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is likely to deny another Rajya Sabha term to Union Minister Ramchandra Prasad Singh, his one-time number two in the Janata Dal United (JDU). Mr Singh, who is Nitish Kumar's emissary to alliance partner BJP, may be paying the price for his proximity to BJP leaders - which was once considered his strength. BJP top leaders now concede that by denying Mr Singh a Rajya Sabha ticket, Nitish Kumar is effectively withdrawing from the union cabinet as sooner or later the Minister will have to resign if he's not an MP.

Nitish Kumar, in a very unusual move, has armed himself with a resolution by JDU legislators to choose the party's Rajya Sabha candidate before he makes a formal announcement. That is unprecedented in the party, as it never resorted to such consultations even when it sent four candidates to the upper house of parliament in the past.

Ties between Nitish Kumar and the BJP have been choppy in the past few months. In the latest sign of a rift, Nitish Kumar hinted that he was not on the same page with the BJP on the CBI raids on his rival-turned-ally-turned-rival Lalu Yadav and his family. While the BJP claimed the fresh corruption case against Lalu Yadav was because of the efforts of Nitish Kumar's party, the Chief Minister said he didn't know about the raids and "only they (CBI)" can explain it.

Mr Kumar may not appreciate being credited for the raids, but the BJP is shovelling it across anyway.

In what seems like an attempt to embarrass Mr Kumar, his former deputy and senior BJP leader Sushil Modi has been making statements almost every day crediting JDU leaders like Lalan Singh and Shivanand Tiwari with highlighting the alleged scam.

It was, however, said the JDU has been raising its voice on the case, an alleged "land for jobs" scam, since 2008 when it was first raised by now JDU National President Rajiv Ranjan "Lalan" Singh and Shivanand Tiwari, and former party leader Sharad Yadav, who's now in Lalu Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD).

When asked about the raids on Sunday, even Lalan Singh feigned ignorance saying he only came to know about the raids from newspapers. What is surprising is that none of the usually vocal JDU leaders, from Delhi to Patna, publicly commented on the raid.

BJP leaders admit in private that the raids were also meant as a message to Mr Kumar, to dissuade him from even thinking about warming up to the RJD.  His consonance recently with Tejashwi Yadav on the issue of a caste-based census has worried many in the BJP.

BJP leaders say if Mr Kumar does decide to resume ties with the RJD, they will publicly accuse him of being hand-in-glove with Mr Yadav's party in corruption.

But the Chief Minister's supporters don't seem too bothered. They question what they call the long rope given to the RJD patriarch by central probe agencies. They say in several cases being investigated by the Enforcement Directorate, the Yadav family "got away but the agency never bothered to file an appeal".

Leaders from both the BJP and JDU describe the Bihar alliance as a broken marriage where the partners "share a house but live separately".

Mr Kumar swapped Lalu Yadav for the BJP as his alliance partner in 2017, in the middle of his term. His ties with the BJP have been increasingly strained since the 2020 Bihar election when his party won far fewer seats than the BJP and was reduced to junior partner for the first time.

Mr Kumar feels let down on his long-standing demand for special status for Bihar and the PM's snub in 2017 on central university status to the Patna University. He also felt publicly rebuffed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the 2020 polls, when Chirag Paswan fought solo, pledging his allegiance to the PM but targeting Mr Kumar and the JDU. PM Modi during his first rally of the 2020 Bihar elections campaign in Sasaram paid tribute to the former Lok Janshakti Party president and Union Minister late Ram Vilas Paswan which the JD(U) feels was avoidable.

The Chief Minister reportedly feels that it is his ally that has embarrassed him more than the opposition. The Bihar Speaker (a BJP leader) repeatedly put Mr Kumar in the dock during the budget session, leading to an angry, public outburst by him.

Mr Kumar also faced tremendous pressure from the Governor when an inquiry was initiated against several state university Vice Chancellors. Bihar BJP president Sanjay Jaiswal has not just opposed the demand for special status and caste-based census, but he has openly ridiculed the Bihar liquor ban, which is close to Mr Kumar's heart.

The BJP has its complaints too. They claim no work is being done in the state and Mr Kumar "doesn't give space" to his alliance partner.

Recently, the Department Of Industries headed by BJP's Shahnawaz Hussain organised an investors' meet in Delhi but Mr Kumar skipped it and kept himself busy with inspection of the drainage system in Patna. He also decided to review the construction of the Gandhi Setu but didn't bother to call Minister of Road Construction Nitin Nabin Sinha (BJP) or even the secretary of the department.

On record, Mr Kumar and the BJP say all is well. But there is a huge trust deficit, both sides admit in private.