Indian Politics: Maharashtra versus Bihar

Whatever logic Ajit Pawar gives, his colleagues and he succumbed to the lure of money and fear of central investigating agencies. The BJP tried to apply the same on Nitish Kumar’s MLAs and Tejaswhi Yadav but failed

A day after the senior Nationalist Congress Party leader Ajit Pawar took oath as a deputy chief minister of Maharashtra, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) named the Bihar deputy chief minister Tejashwi Yadav in a supplementary chargesheet for the ‘land for jobs’ scam in the Railways.

It was not a mere coincidence. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said at Bhopal earlier (on June 27) that NCP leaders were involved in scams worth Rs 70,000 crore and he would “not spare them”. Central investigation agencies were hot on the heels of Ajit Pawar and others in his party in connection with ‘scams’ in irrigation, cooperatives and other sectors in Maharashtra.

But Ajit Pawar “shocked” his uncle, mentor and NCP president Sharad Pawar as he and his eight party colleagues joined the Bharatiya Janata Party-supported Eknath Shinde government. Several leaders who took oath last Sunday were on the scanner of central investigating agencies. “They (Ajit and his colleagues) have gone into the BJP’s washing machine; they will now come out laundered off their taints,” the Rashtriya Janata Dal spokesman and MP Manoj Jha said.

Ajit Pawar and his colleagues now have joined a club of Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, Union minister Narayan Rane and numerous others who faced charges of corruption but are free from the same after joining the BJP.

With central investigation agencies and huge financial resources at their command, the BJP, under the stewardship of Narendra Modi and Union home minister Amit Shah, engineered defections usurping the electoral mandates in Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Goa in the last five years. It has done the same in Maharashtra now.

The BJP has made at least two attempts to play the same game in Bihar in the last one year but has failed.

Tejashwi-Ajit Pawar

The BJP tried its tricks on Lalu Prasad Yadav, particularly after Nitish joined Lalu for the first time and the RJD-Janata Dal (United)-Congress alliance that inflicted a crushing defeat on it in the 2015 assembly polls. The CBI got hyperactive against Lalu, ensuring his conviction in as many as four fodder scam cases. It also filed two fresh cases related to his times as a Railway minister, from 2004 to 2009. With the CBI vociferously opposing his bail, Lalu stayed in jail for over four years.

The CBI and Enforcement Directorate then embroiled Tejashwi in the cases of allotment of two IRCTC hotels to private operators and in the ‘land for job scam’, both allegedly occurring during Lalu’s tenure as railways minister. The CBI chargesheeted Tejashwi along with his father and mother Rabri Devi in the IRCTC case but the court granted them bail in 2018.

On Monday, July 3, the CBI filed a supplementary chargesheet in the ‘land for job scam’ case, naming Tejashwi too.

His parents, elder sister and Rajya Sabha MP Misa Bharti already stand chargesheeted in this case. Tejashwi has repeatedly said that the investigating agencies had been working as the BJP’s “extension office”. He has invited them to open their office at his residence so that they do not have trouble travelling to him.

Soon after the CBI named Tejashwi in its chargesheet, Lalu attacked Modi, describing the latter as the “most corrupt”.

Nitish Kumar-Sharad Pawar

Simultaneous with the Eknath Shinde rebellion within the Shiv Sena ranks in June-July 2022 also tried to split the Janata Dal (United) [JD(U)] through Ram Chandra Prasad Singh or ‘RCP’, the party’s lone minister in the Modi cabinet then and one of Nitish’s confidantes.

But Nitish dumped the BJP and joined the RJD-Congress-Left grand alliance. He also refused a third term to RCP as Rajya Sabha MP and sacked him from the party. Thus, the BJP’s efforts to engineer a split in the JDU failed.

Recently, fresh attempts were made to split the 45 MLA-strong JD(U) in Bihar. Many TV channels began running a story about rumblings in the JD(U) and a likely split in it around the time of Ajit Pawar’s rebellion. In the meantime, Harivansh Narayan Singh – deputy chairman of the Rajya Sabha and a JD(U) MP who is believed to have shifted his loyalty to the BJP – met Nitish at Patna on July 3, fuelling speculations of a split in the party.

While TV channels spoke of an hour-and-half-long meeting between Harivansh and Nitish, the meeting between the two lasted only for 15 minutes. The JD(U) has virtually disowned him after he attended the inauguration of the new parliament last month and praised the prime minister. But he is the deputy chairman in the Rajya Sabha with the BJP’s support. The JDU can’t initiate anti-party activities against a person holding the constitutional position. 

Nitish, on his part, has begun meeting all his MLAs, MLCs and MPs of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. The meeting with Harivansh was part of this series of meetings, which started on June 30, party insiders maintain.

Most JD(U) leaders who met Nitish individually and who this writer spoke to, said that the CM was keen on getting news from the ground level from them. This, they said, would help the party fight the BJP in the 2024 general elections. Nitish has also been advising his party’s lawmakers on how to explain to the people why the JD(U) had parted ways with the BJP and “how the Hindutva party was dangerous for the democracy and constitution.”

In a way, Nitish has succeeded where Sharad Pawar failed. The BJP requires over 30 MLAs to split the JD(U). Such a thing looks impossible, given Nitish’s control over his party.

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