Double trouble for RJD as Nitish makes gains ahead of Bihar assembly polls

Besides five RJD MLCs joining Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s JD(U), Raghuvansh Prasad Singh has resigned as the party’s national vice-president. Lalu Prasad is yet to accept his resignation
Old political habits are not broken easily. Despite being badly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, Bihar is in the news with legislators switching parties, which has begun ahead of the Assembly polls, to be held in October-November.

As Tejashwi Yadav, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader and leader of the Opposition in the Assembly, was busy with caste calculations, the Janata Dal (United), or JD(U), stunned the former by engineering a split in its legislative party in the Bihar Legislative Council. Five of the RJD’s eight members in the Council quit the party on Wednesday and joined hands with Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.

Another blow to the RJD was the resignation of former Union Minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh as the party’s national vice-president. Singh, one of the founding members of the RJD and a staunch supporter of Lalu Prasad, was apparently unhappy with a recent meeting between his rival Rama Kishore Singh and Tejashwi.

The shock

The five members of the Legislative Council (MLCs) — Sanjay Prasad, Radha Charan Seth, Dilip Rai, Qamar Alam, and Ranvijay Singh — arrived at the Council’s acting Chairman Awadhesh Narain Singh’s office on Tuesday. They handed over their letters of resignation from the RJD and requested they be allowed to join the JD(U).

“According to the 10th Schedule of the Constitution, their membership will remain because all of them left the party together and they account for more than half the party strength (in the Council),” said Singh.

A livid Tejashwi accused the Bihar chief minister of suborning the lawmakers. “This is the constructive work Nitishji has done sitting in his residence for 90 days,” the young leader said.

The background

It was “dynastic politics” in the RJD and the leadership of Tejashwi that made them leave the party, the MLCs said.

“The RJD is virtually dead. Tejashwi is driving the party to the wall,” said Sanjay Prasad.

Radha Charan Seth said: “The present RJD leadership doesn’t trust and respect senior leaders.”

JD(U) sources say this operation was conducted by party MP Rajiv Ranjan Singh alias Lalan. The plan was hatched almost a month ago, with Lalan and Sanjay Prasad masterminding it. Sanjay Prasad is said to have generously helped Lalan in last year’s Lok Sabha election.

The desertion of Ranvijay Singh is particularly important because he is considered close to Lalu. He used to be with Lalu in Ranchi whenever the RJD supremo had a court hearing. The defection of Qamar Alam, a Delhi-based businessman, and Radha Charan Seth, who is in the construction business, will also hurt the party’s fund raising, say insiders in the RJD.

“This has become some sort of a ritual for Nitish Kumar. He breaks up our party before every major election. He did it in 2009, in 2014, and now,” said a senior RJD leader. He was referring to the split in 2009, when Shyam Rajak and some other RJD leaders joined the JD(U). Then in February 2014, just days before the announcement of the general election, 13 of the 22 MLAs of the RJD joined hands with Nitish Kumar.

The impact

With five more MLCs, the JD(U) has 21 members in the Council. It is now the single-largest party in it. The BJP has 16, and also the support of an independent member. The 75-member House has a strength of 46 because 29 seats are vacant.

The RJD is appeasing Raghuvansh. Sources said the entry of Rama Kishore Singh had been stalled for now on the orders of Lalu himself. The RJD supremo has not accepted the resignation of Raghuvansh, who is recovering from Covid-19 in AIIMS, Patna.

Bickering in the grand alliance (led by the RJD) has intensified as most of the smaller parties in it want a coordination committee in the coalition. The RJD is reluctant to accede to the demand.

Bihar RJD chief Jagadanand Singh said: “Nitishji is busy poaching our members. It would not affect us, but this would expose him.”

Not many of his colleagues share his view. “Politics is more about demoralising rivals even before the game starts. Nitish Kumar has won this round,” said an RJD leader.

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