After making public dissing of his boss, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, de rigueur, Prashant Kishor was kicked out today of their party, the Janata Dal United. Kishor, 43, did not exit the shop floor without a new slam. He tweeted: "Thank you Nitish Kumar. My best wishes to you to retain the chair of Chief Minister of Bihar. God bless you."
Kishor, whose political affinity has been elastic, an occupational hazard on account of his day job as a strategist-for-hire, was appointed Vice President of the JDU in October, 2018. He was atypically allowed to consult for opposition parties including Mamata Banerjee, the Chief Minister of West Bengal.
Synched to Kishor's dismissal, senior sources in the JDU claim that Nitish Kumar has been in touch with other non-BJP parties (he is in alliance with the BJP) in a window-shopping spree before the Bihar election later this year. Allegedly on his call log: Mamata Banerjee and the Congress.
Nitish Kumar, 68, has in recent years shown an Ashtanga yoga-worthy flexibility in springing between parties. In the last six years, he has mated with the BJP, the Congress, former rival Lalu Yadav, only to return to the BJP three years ago.
Senior JDU leaders say that the Bihar Chief Minister has been in regular touch with former Congress president Rahul Gandhi and his sister, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, over the past two years. They say that Kumar used Kishor's phone to discuss re-entering the opposition league.
The relationship between Prashant Kishor and Nitish Kumar turned into treacherous turf over the controversial new citizenship law. Kishor accused Kumar of not taking a stand, then of taking too ambivalent a stand. Kumar was livid about the outing of what he saw as private conversations about how to balance his support to the BJP in general with the need to oppose the law - a need felt more keenly by Kishor and another senior JDU leader, Pawan Varma, than the Chief Minister.
Yesterday, Kumar unloaded the allegation that it was at the instance of union Home Minister Amit Shah that Kishor had been inducted into the JDU. In 2014, Kishor was among those credited with PM Modi's plush victory. However, there was a falling out soon after with critics of Kishor accusing him of exaggerating his role and engineering unwarranted hype.
The Chief Minister's invocation of Amit Shah was intended to present Kishor to the world at large as an instrument of the same Home Minister whose actions he has been so deeply critical of. Kishor told me that "Kumar was telling a blatant lie just to create confusion".
Senior leaders tell me that Kumar has been using Kishor to create an outreach and negotiate with senior opposition leaders such as Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and M K Stalin, chief of the DMK. It is not a coincidence that Kishor is also a political consultant for Kejriwal and is about to sign on Stalin as a client.
An angry JDU leader said "Nitish is fooling everyone including Modi and Shah. He wants to keep all options open and is playing a double game. "Woh kambhal odh ke ghee pi rahe hain", a quintessentially Bihar political idiom which means that Kumar is trying to have his cake and eat it too.
As with all politics, it comes down to this: Nitish Kumar is doing whatever he can to ensure he remains on the right side of public opinion while also getting re-elected. In the context of the anti-CAA protests, he's cycling through options to determine if he needs to cut loose from the BJP. Apparently, the JDU now has two factions - one which wants to continue the alliance with the BJP for the Bihar elections slated for October this year and the other which wants to ally with the "secular" opposition.
Kishor was apparently fed up of Kumar's volte-faces which led to a personal loss of credibility for him with Mamata Banerjee and others since Kumar would commit and promise to switch and then welsh. Those sympathetic to Kishor also hold that the Chief Minister used his strategist's outreach and clout among the opposition to negotiate a deal that saw Amit Shah announcing that the BJP would fight the Bihar election under his leadership.
On Kumar's taunt that he drafted Kishor into the JDU at Shah's urging, sources say that it a complete lie; they claim that Kumar and Kishor took what they term a "no objection certificate" from the PM.
Even if Kishor's allegations are dismissed as an exit rant, Shah ought to be worried about the BJP's alliance with Kumar. The party has lost the Shiv Sena to the rival team and another ally, the Akali Dal, is restive. Nitish Kumar doubtless wants to be seen as up for grabs. It can only help.
(Swati Chaturvedi is an author and a journalist who has worked with The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times.)
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