Bihar Swearing-in: Lalu’s Imprint Palpable in Nitish Cabinet
Nitish Kumar has taken oath as Bihar CM but his 28-member cabinet has Lalu’s imprint all over, writes Neena Choudhary
Four months ago when Lalu Prasad reluctantly accepted Nitish Kumar as the chief ministerial candidate, the RJD chief drew an analogy between snake poison and his decision, saying, “jehar peene ko bhi taiyyar hain (willing to consume even poison).”
Today, it was Nitish who had to tacitly drink poison when he allowed Lalu’s younger son Tejaswi Yadav, a non-matriculate, to become No 2 in his 28-member cabinet. Political observers treat this as Lalu’s style to extract his pound of flesh when he ensured that his two sons Tejaswi Yadav and Tej Pratap, both debutant MLAs, were sworn in as ministers.
Tejaswi, who won from Raghopur defeating BJP’s Satish Yadav, took oath immediately after Nitish thereby triggering speculation that he might be crowned as the deputy chief minister.
Lalu’s Succession Plan
Though there is no constitutional provision for someone taking oath as a deputy CM, conventionally a chief minister, if he so wishes, can designate his No 2 minister as his deputy. By taking oath ahead of his elder brother Tej Pratap and other senior colleagues like Abdul Bari Siddiqui and Bijendra Yadav, Tejaswi has given Bihar ample hint about Lalu’s succession plan.
Those who could read between the lines argue that Nitish, a no-nonsense leader and who normally does not wilt under pressure, must have reluctantly agreed to such an arrangement where he could be charged with succumbing to Lalu’s pressure in the beginning of his new innings.
No doubt, Lalu’s RJD, which has emerged as the single largest party with 80 MLAs in its kitty, has every right to ask for its pie in the Grand Alliance ministry, which came to power after Nitish’s JD (U) won 71 seats and Congress 27 seats.
An Uneasy Start
However, those who know Nitish well, argue that he may have taken oath as Bihar chief minister for the fifth time in his three-decade-old political career, but this was not an auspicious beginning. This was evident when Lalu’s elder son Tej Pratap had to take oath again after he fumbled and was gently reprimanded by Governor Ram Nath Kovind. Like a teacher, the governor rightly pointed out to the first-time legislator that he had read the word apekshit (expected) as upekshit (neglected) and hence the oath had to be taken afresh.
Apart from this unsavoury episode, Lalu’s imprint on Nitish’s cabinet was palpable when Nitish’s trusted aide and senior MLA Shyam Razak could not find a place in the ministry. Sources said Razak, once considered to be Lalu’s chief lieutenant, had deserted his mentor in 2009 and became a minister in Nitish’s cabinet. An annoyed Lalu perhaps has neither forgotten nor forgiven Razak for crossing over the fence.
But Nitish, perhaps with an aim to keep the BJP at bay and cut Narendra Modi to size, today had to imbibe poison. He could not make even his close friend PK Sahi a minister apparently because the latter was the man, who, as a lawyer, was the petitioner in the fodder scam, in which a convicted Lalu was barred from contesting elections for six years. Many political pundits may call it premature, but this is just the beginning of an uneasy relationship between the two alliance partners, which may eventually lead to stormy days in Bihar.
(The writer is a Bihar-based journalist)
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