The JD(U) insisted these were routine meetings, with party supremo and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar getting a temperature at the grassroots in the state, talking to his MPs, MLAs and MLCs.
However, given that these came plumb in the middle of the first Opposition unity meeting in Patna, where Nitish played an important role, and the next scheduled for Bengaluru later this month, speculation has been rife regarding the discussions held by the CM with his leaders over four days till Monday.
Following the Maharashtra development, leaving the NCP bruised, leaders in rival camps suggested that the meetings were Nitish’s way of ensuring that there were no weak links on the JD(U) front. A shrewd politician, he anticipates that the BJP will mount pressure on Opposition parties following the Patna unity meeting, and given Nitish’s role in it, the JD(U) would be a prime target for it.
Party leaders point out how Nitish earlier preempted precisely such a blow by removing a once close aide, R C P Singh, over his growing proximity with the BJP. Singh was later kept hanging by the BJP for some time before induction into the party.
Sources said that at the one-on-one meetings, JD(U) legislators were told by Nitish to share what they were hearing on the ground on “governance, politics, BJP, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Opposition unity buzz”.
In one way, Nitish is more comfortably placed in Bihar than the NCP was in Maharashtra. The JD(U) has 45 MLAs, and the BJP with 78 cannot expect to take away enough to form a government (the half-way mark is 122). Currently, there is no one in the JD(U) ranks seen as powerful enough to rally at least 30 MLAs to avoid the anti-defection law.
Insiders said the seeming flurry of political activity in the JD(U) was also meant as a message to ally RJD. There has been talk recently of RJD national president Lalu Prasad pressuring Nitish to vacate the CM chair for his son Tejashwi, and to carry forward with his national ambitions and Opposition unity plans. The speculation around Nitish’s actions has quieted that talk for now.
Incidentally, the past few days also saw Deputy CM Tejashwi putting off mass transfers in the Health Department under him. Nitish reportedly was not okay with the transfer list.
The RJD’s nervousness could also be on account of the perennial uncertainty regarding Nitish’s “real” intentions. The BJP, for one, remains convinced that Nitish cannot remain with the RJD for long, given the corruption cases against its top leaders, and are eagerly watching how the RJD’s impatience to see Tejashwi in the CM’s chair plays out.
On Monday, the CBI chargesheeted Tejashwi, along with Lalu and his wife Rabri, in a land-for-jobs scam. It was the first chargesheet against the Deputy CM.
On the Opposition front, meanwhile, Nitish’s stock has risen after the NCP split left Sharad Pawar weakened. The Congress is expected to lean on him to talk to the parties in the front, both to hold them together and to woo more over, before the next meeting.
The Patna meeting saw Nitish bring together Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress and the Congress on one table, and there is hope that he could get the Aam Aadmi Party to turn up in Bengaluru despite its scrap with the Congress.
A JD(U) legislator, who was among those who met Nitish, told The Indian Express not to read too much into the meetings. “We discussed party matters, possible election issues and what people are discussing at the grassroots. People are probably making too much of the talks.”