Patna/New Delhi: Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar was on Saturday poised to dump the Mahagathbandhan he had joined less than 18 months ago and deal a body blow to the opposition bloc INDIA, with a source close to him saying that the JD(U) president was likely to resign on Sunday.
The source, who requested anonymity, told PTI that Kumar was “likely to address a meeting of JD(U) legislators around 10 a.m. Sunday before going to Raj Bhavan to submit his resignation” and formation of a new government, with the BJP’s support, was “expected by the evening”.
“Offices, including the Governor’s secretariat, have been ordered to remain open on Sunday in view of the likelihood of hectic activities”, said the source who claimed that Kumar, who has maintained a deafening silence over the political turmoil in the state, had “confided in trusted aides about his next move “a couple of days ago”.
As Kumar’s return to the BJP-led NDA, which he had vowed to defeat, looked imminent, a rattled RJD held a meeting of its leaders to take stock of the situation and chalk out a future course of action.
After the meeting, RJD national spokesman Manoj Jha told reporters that “all leaders unanimously authorised the party supremo (Lalu Prasad) to take any decision regarding the developments that may take place today or tomorrow”.
Meanwhile, Janata Dal (United)’s political adviser and spokesperson K C Tyagi told reporters in Delhi that the grand alliance government in Bihar is on the verge of collapse, and accused a section of the Congress leadership of repeatedly “insulting” Kumar.
“The INDIA bloc is on the verge of collapse. The alliance of INDIA bloc parties is almost over in Punjab, West Bengal and Bihar,” he said.
It will be the second volte-face by Kumar in less than 18 months, when he had dumped the BJP, accusing it of having tried to engineer a split in the JD(U), and joined hands with the RJD-Congress combine, with which he had severed his ties in 2017,
BJP leaders went into a huddle at the Patna party office where the meeting attended by MPs and members of the state legislature, besides in-charge for Bihar Vinod Tawde, continued till late in the evening.
The meeting fell short of announcing support to Kumar, but the jubilant mood at the Veerchand Patel Marg party office, which was lit more brightly than usual and where the attendees enjoyed a sumptuous feast, gave away ample hints that the BJP is looking at making a comeback.
Maharajganj MP Janardan Singh Sigriwal gave it away when he told reporters “it was the NDA which had received the mandate to govern Bihar in the 2020 assembly polls. Now the NDA will be back in power”.
Another party leader said on condition of anonymity that all attendees were asked “to place signatures on a piece of paper”, a formality that may be required when the BJP seeks to inform Governor Rajendra Arlekar that it was ready to form the new government.
State BJP president Samrat Choudhary, who has been wearing a turban ever since the party was dumped by Kumar, vowing to remove it only after the JD(U) supremo was dislodged from power, was teased with queries about his headgear by journalists present on the occasion.
Prominent party leaders like Ravi Shankar Prasad did not take any queries. Union ministers Giriraj Singh and Raj Kumar Singh, who represent Begusarai and Ara Lok Sabha seats respectively, were conspicuous by their absence.
Choudhary told reporters: “We cannot say anything…since nobody has resigned”.
Party leaders speaking on condition of anonymity said a formal announcement of support “will follow a green signal from the top BJP leadership in Delhi which might be awaiting the resignation of the Chief Minister”.
The RJD, founded and headed by Kumar’s arch-rival Lalu Prasad, who had succeeded in securing cabinet berths for his two sons, and Deputy CM’s post for the younger one, Tejashwi Yadav, appeared to be in a daze.
The party held the meeting at the residence of Lalu’s wife Rabri Devi. All senior leaders of the party, including members of the state legislature, were present at the meeting.
The RJD, with 79 MLAs, is the single largest party in the Bihar assembly and part of the Mahagathbandhan, which also comprises the Congress and three Left parties. The ‘Mahagathbandhan’ falls eight members short of the majority in the assembly in the event of Kumar’s JD(U) pulling out.
There were also rumours that the RJD had thought of outwitting Kumar by weaning away from the NDA Jitan Ram Manjhi, whose Hindustani Awam Morcha has four MLAs.
“My father has not been offered the Chief Minister’s post. Even if he was, we would not have accepted. The RJD wants to play the Dalit card. They should have set an example by making a Dalit a Deputy CM and having more Dalits in the cabinet. We are looking forward to joining the new NDA government,” Manjhi’s son Santosh Kumar Suman told reporters.
Notably, Manjhi had in 2022 followed Kumar in quitting the NDA and joining the Mahagathbandhan. However, he developed cold feet last year when Kumar allegedly put pressure on him to merge his party with the JD(U). Manjhi made Suman resign his ministerial berth and returned to the NDA.
There were also reports that MLAs of the Congress, which is being squarely blamed by the JD(U) for the failure of the opposition bloc INDIA to take off, were jittery over the development and many of them were planning to jump ship.
However, Shakil Ahmed Khan, the legislature party leader of the Congress, told PTI “All such rumours are false. All 19 MLAs were present at a meeting we held in Purnea district to discuss preparations for the January 30 rally of Rahul Gandhi who will be reaching Bihar as part of the Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra”.