The refusal of JDU topguns denied Rajya Sabha re-nomination to contest the forthcoming Lok Sabha battle could well augment Nitish Kumar’s current image deficit. Is the Bihar chief minister being told by his seasoned colleagues that the JDU ticket isn’t a desirable bet in the 2014 polls?
Two senior partymen — Shivanand Tiwari and N.K. Singh — have rejected Nitish’s offer to be fielded for the Lok Sabha, the former angrily, the latter articulately. Though stylistically different, the substance of how both have responded to Nitish Kumar’s offer is the same: No.
A ruling party’s Lok Sabha ticket is usually a thing to vie hard for; such swift and public spurning of it should worry, if not alarm, the JDU’s poll managers. Both leaders have told Nitish, rather unambiguously, that they no longer see an electoral winner in him.
Singh cited “intensive multiple feedback from constituents” among the reasons why he was declining the party ticket. Tiwari, who declined to contest his home borough of Buxar, was more blunt. “Why should I fight elections for a party that has lost touch with the ground, whose leader does not bother even talking to me?” Tiwari railed this evening, when contacted by The Telegraph, “Let the Lok Sabha elections happen and Nitish Kumar will have a good sense of where he stands.”
Both men expected re-nomination to the Upper House and appear to have been taken by unpleasant surprise that Nitish preferred new faces to them.
But sources close to Nitish suggest both leaders should have seen the closure of their term coming. Tiwari had turned openly critical of Nitish’s style of functioning of late and had warned the party against taking the “potential of Narendra Modi” lightly in the 2014 elections. Nitish took unkindly to Tiwari attaching such attention to Narendra Modi.
In N.K. Singh’s case, some of the “disappointment” seems to have centred around the failure of the campaign to secure special category status for Bihar. As a well-connected technocrat, N.K. Singh was a key background player in the negotiations for special category status. But sources suggest, and credibly, that the granting of special status would always have been a political decision rather than being contingent upon the efforts of individuals. It hinged critically on whether the Congress preferred Nitish over Lalu Prasad as an electoral ally in Bihar. The moment it became apparent Lalu was the Congress’ chosen one, the special category issue went out of the window.
What left Singh and Tiwari especially peeved and provoked was an inspired leak to the media that the JDU leadership had served both a 48-hour ultimatum — “mohlat” — to accept the Lok Sabha offer. N.K. Singh’s decision to write to Nitish Kumar today and release the core content of his letter was probably aimed as a riposte to reports he was labouring under an “ultimatum”. Singh told The Telegraph this afternoon that he had been “deeply hurt” by reports of the ultimatum, adding, “I am anguished at any suggestion of prevarication leading the party issuing an ultimatum because both at the time of the initial offer and subsequently I had sought time to reflect on the suggestion.”
Singh said that the Lok Sabha offer made to him on January 22 was “a surprise, albeit a cavalier one, since I had undertaken no preparatory work in the constituency (Banka, in central Bihar). I believe that a Lok Sabha contest needs intensive preparatory work for at least six months to a year and entails interaction with constituents one proposes to serve. Foisting any individual without prior consultation with the constituents may be grossly unfair to them.”
Asked if he planned to quit the JDU, Singh said, “I have not given any thought right not to leaving the JDU, in fact I have thanked the (Bihar) chief minister for the opportunity he gave me to serve Bihar and have conveyed to him how much I treasure my relationship with him.”
He also made light of the speculation that he may be mulling a switch to the BJP in the near future. “As a professional, I had strong associations with the NDA, I worked in Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s office. Similarly, in my professional capacity, I have strong associations with Congress leaders. Unlike most people, I do have a professional life, for the moment I will concentrate on it. I have two unfinished books, one of which concerns the growth of the Indian economy since 1991. That needs my attention.”
Tiwari was more forthright he did not see a future for himself in the JDU. “Aage ki baad mein dekhenge, lekin iss party mein rakha kya hai ab?” Word has it he may be gravitating back to Lalu Prasad’s Rashtirya Janata Dal (RJD), where he spent the better part of the years that Lalu lorded over Bihar.