Frenemies Forever: The Nitish Kumar, Lalu Yadav relationship
- The political careers of Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad Yadav have run parallel over 50 years
- They have by turns been allies and rivals, together defining Bihar's politics
- Nitish Kumar has dumped the BJP and will form a new government with the help of Lalu Yadav's RJD
Nitish Kumar must turn to old friends who are also old foes everytime he decides to dump an ally and take a new one. There are only so many choices that Bihar can offer. And so, like other times, a split with the BJP has meant going back into the arms of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the party founded by Lalu Prasad Yadav, comrade and bete noire by turns.
Lalu Yadav, at 74, is not much older than Nitish Kumar, who is 71. But conviction and jail time in corruption cases forced him into retirement from active politics much earlier. So it was his son Tejashwi Yadav, 32, who accompanied Nitish Kumar to the Bihar governor's residence on Tuesday as the latter staked claim to set up a new government in the state with the help of the RJD.
Most of their political careers, however, have run parallel. In the early 1970s they were both drawn to the Sampoorna Kranti (total revolution) movement launched by Jayprakash Narayan and participated in agitations in Patna as young socialists. Nitish Kumar was an engineer from the Bihar College of Engineering. Lalu Yadav studied at Patna University and served as the president of the students' union.
Both joined the Janata Party, formed as an opposition coalition to take on the might of the Congress and its leader Indira Gandhi after she engineered an Emergency in India. Lalu Yadav was the star, becoming the youngest Janata Party MP in 1977.
They both joined the Janata Dal when the Janata Party imploded and in 1990, when their party won the Bihar elections, Nitish Kumar backed Lalu Yadav for chief minister. Four years later, their relationship soured and Nitish Kumar quit the Janata Dal to form his own party, the Samata Party, which later merged with the Janata Dal (United) in 2003.
In 1997, as allegations against him in the fodder scam swirled and members of the Janata Dal began to question his leadership, Lalu Yadav broke away to launch the RJD and installed his wife Rabri Devi as chief minister. The 2000 assembly elections in Bihar threw up a hung verdict, with the RJD winning the most seats. After a minor blip, Rabri Devi aka Lalu Yadav's proxy, continued as chief minister with the support of the Congress.
That minor blip was a seven-day stint as chief minister for Nitish Kumar, now a member of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). The NDA was invited first by the governor to form government and Nitish Kumar took oath. He didn't last long in the chair though, outclassed by Lalu Yadav in political jugglery.
Also Read| Bihar CM Nitish Kumar ends alliance with BJP
In the 2005 Bihar elections, Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal (United), in alliance with the BJP, came to power and Nitish Kumar became chief minister.
The BJP-JD (U) alliance won the 2010 elections as well, but in 2013, Kumar walked out of the NDA as it became clear that then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi - with whom Nitish Kumar did not share the warmest relationship - would be the face of the BJP's 2014 campaign in the national elections. Nitish Kumar's exit from the NDA ended a 17-year-long partnership with the BJP
In a trust vote that he had to face as a result of the split, Nitish Kumar was helped by the Congress to retain his CM's chair. The RJD voted against him, the BJP walked out before the vote.
Nitish Kumar faced swift reprisal for dumping the BJP. In the national elections held in 2014, which saw a massive Narendra Modi wave sweep the BJP to power at the Centre, Nitish Kumar's party could win only two of Bihar's 40 seats. Nitish Kumar accepted responsibility for his party's debacle and resigned. In 2015, he joined hands with Lalu Yadav and the RJD's alliance with the Congress and Left, which they call the Mahagathbandhan or "Grand Alliance."
They won that election and Nitish Kumar was back as chief minister, with Tejashwi Yadav installed as his young deputy.
That alliance was short-lived too, with Nitish Kumar walking out of the Grand Alliance in 2017 after allegations of corruption surfaced against Lalu Yadav, Tejashwi and other members of their family.
Who could Nitish Kumar turn to but the BJP, which was waiting to welcome him. In a matter of hours, Nitish Kumar was back as chief minister.
In 2020, the NDA came back to power, winning 125 of Bihar's 243 seats, to the RJD alliance's 110. But the fine print was important. RJD was the single largest party with 75 seats, and the BJP was the biggest gainer with 74 seats, firmly establishing itself as the senior partner in the alliance with the JD(U) in Bihar. Nitish Kumar's party could win only 43 seats, but the BJP honoured its pre-poll promise that JD(U) boss would be chief minister.
The change in their equation meant that episode 2 in the BJP-Nitish relationship was never the most comfortable. Nitish Kumar also accused the BJP of encouraging the Lok Janshakti Party led by Chirag Paswan, which cut into the JD(U) votes leading to its loss in many seats. For months the alliance had appeared to be at breakpoint. As things fell swiftly apart in the last few days, the RJD wasted no time in signalling that it would keep Nitish Kumar afloat in its larger mission to keep the BJP out of power.