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Is Bihar CM Nitish Kumar plotting return to secular opposition fold again?

Within a year of walking out of the Grand Alliance and joining the NDA, Bihar chief minister and JD(U) chief Nitish Kumar has apparently opened up a channel for negotiation with his erstwhile coalition partners, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Congress, to return once again to the “secular” fold.

Speculation gained momentum when Mr Kumar called up RJD supremo Lalu Prasad Yadav, admitted to the Mumbai Heart Institute, to enquire about his health on Tuesday evening. Sources said that though the RJD patriarch and the Congress were “keen” and “open” to Mr Kumar’s return, it was Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav’s son Tejashwi who continued to oppose the move.

On Tuesday morning, when Mr Tejashwi was asked about Mr Kumar’s possible return by the media in Patna, he retorted, “After Kumar ditched us last year, he tried to sell the idea that he was joining NDA mainly for the welfare of the state… (that) with the NDA in power both at the Centre and in the state, Bihar would be equipped with a double engine that will speed up its development”.

But “nothing of the sort has happened,” he added.

Earlier, he had told the media that though Mr Kumar was feeling “uncomfortable” in the NDA, “the door is closed” for his return to the Grand Alliance.

Sources, however, said that the Congress leadership has donned the mantle of negotiator and is trying to impress upon the RJD leader the need to unite all anti-BJP forces.

Talking about the proposed formula, a senior Congress leader disclosed that JD(U)-RJD and Congress are looking at the option of a Centre-state formula whereby “Mr Kumar could be accommodated at the Centre while Tejashwi Yadav gets to be the chief minister”.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi had a high-level meeting with Mr Tejashwi earlier this month which was also attended by Congress Bihar in-charge Shaktisinh Gohil.

But it seems Mr Tejashwi has not come around yet.

Making his opposition to an alliance with JD(U) clear again, Tejashvi Yadav tweeted on Tuesday: “Nothing but a late courtesy call to enquire about his health as he underwent fistula operation on Sunday. Surprisingly NitishJi got to know about his ill health after four months of hospitalisation. I hope he realises he is the last politician to enquire following BJP/NDA ministers visiting him.”

But things may change depending on how Bihar chief minister led JD(U) votes in the election of Rajya Sabha deputy chairperson that is to take place in the monsoon session of Parliament which begins on July 18.

The Bhartiya Janata Party has not yet announced its candidate, but it is going all out to ensure its nominee gets elected as deputy chairperson.

Though it is the single-largest party in Rajya Sabha, after the Telugu Desam Party’s exit from National Democratic Alliance, the saffron party is counting on JD(U)’s support to register a win.

The Opposition parties too are treating this election as a test case for unity against the BJP.

The JD(U), with six Rajya Sabha MPs in its kitty, is keeping its options open on who it’ll support in the election.

For quite some time now the JD(U) has been making noises against the BJP. After the BJP turned down the Janata Dal (United)’s demand of getting the lion’s share of 22 seats in Bihar in 2019 Lok Sabha polls, and seat-sharing talks broke down between the two, JD(U) announced that it will be fielding candidates against the saffronites in the forthcoming Assembly elections in Jharkhand.

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