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Inside Track by Coomi Kapoor: Why did Nitish Kumar bide his time?

But on June 30 this year, the tables suddenly turned — four MLAs from Owaisi’s AIMIM merged with the RJD.

The Bihar CM knew that the BJP is a wily enemy to cross.
The Bihar CM knew that the BJP is a wily enemy to cross.

Outfoxing BJP
JD(U) chief Nitish Kumar has been smarting ever since the 2020 Assembly elections when the BJP deliberately undercut the JD(U) by encouraging Chirag Paswan to field candidates against his party. Since the numbers always favoured a JD(U)-RJD tie-up and Tejashwi Yadav was willing to bury the hatchet, why did Nitish bide his time? The Bihar CM knew that the BJP is a wily enemy to cross. As long as it remained the largest party, it was entitled to be called first to form a government by Governor Phagu Chauhan. (After the 2020 polls, the RJD emerged as the largest single party, finishing ahead of the BJP, but the BJP quickly wooed smaller parties and Independents so that it soon inched ahead of the RJD). But on June 30 this year, the tables suddenly turned — four MLAs from Owaisi’s AIMIM merged with the RJD. While some media headlines suggested that Owaisi was shell-shocked at the defections, a savvy Bihar politician hinted that Nitish had actually engineered the coup with Owaisi’s consent. With the four AIMIM MLAs joining the RJD, it became the single largest party. Nitish was emboldened, aware that the Governor had no option but to invite the RJD first.

Also Read| No. of ministerial berths Cong will get in Bihar finalised, oath-taking likely on Aug 16: AICC in-charge Bhakta Charan Das

Wrong message
Mamata Banerjee is reportedly furious with her nephew Abhishek Banerjee for instantly disassociating the TMC from former minister Partha Chatterjee and announcing his suspension from the party. Abhishek acted within a week of the embarrassing photographs of mountains of cash found by the Enforcement Directorate from the residences of Chatterjee’s friend Arpita Mukherjee. While Abhishek patted himself on the back, tweeting that unlike the BJP, the TMC acted promptly against corruption, Banerjee, a shrewd politician, had a different take. In a closed -door meeting of a few senior party members, she reportedly blasted her nephew for his childish behaviour. She pointed out that if the party turned totally against Chatterjee, he would have no option but to turn approver against them and accuse TMC leaders of being in the know of the pay-offs in the teachers’ recruitment scam. A seasoned politician would have given a non-committal reply about the law taking its course and merely removed Chatterjee as minister to demonstrate the TMC’s commitment to fighting corruption.

Not so friendly
Akhilesh Yadav appears to have fallen out with his recent buddy and ally, RLD leader Jayant Chaudhary. Though the issue on which the two scions of two of UP’s most important political dynasties fought is minor, the ramifications in western UP politics could be significant. One reason that Akhilesh is peeved is that he supported Jayant’s Rajya Sabha bid on the understanding that Jayant would ask for the allotment of Akhilesh’s old Pandara Park bungalow so that the Yadav family would have a house in Delhi. But Jayant instead opted for a house on Shahjahan Road. Jayant believes that part of his Assembly alliance agreement was that the SP would support his nomination for the Rajya Sabha, but Akhilesh kept him dangling till the last moment.

Door still open?
Uddhav Thackeray, fighting to retain leadership of the Shiv Sena, requested his close lieutenant Milind Narvekar to speak to all the MLAs who have defected to Eknath Shinde’s side and ask why they had betrayed the party. Narvekar reported back that it was a gloomy picture as most of the MLAs had a long litany of complaints on the Thackerays’ style of functioning. To Narvekar’s surprise, Uddhav perceived the MLAs’ response as good news. Uddhav explained to his puzzled aide that the first sign of a possible reconciliation is open communication. That the defecting MLAs spoke so freely was a hopeful sign. If they had cut him dead, then there would have been reason to worry.

Unhappy coincidence
The Congress’s black-clothes protest on August 5 was probably a bad idea. Amit Shah quickly noted that it was the anniversary of laying the foundation stone for the Ram Janambhoomi temple. Natwar Singh had an equally negative interpretation: Black shirts were the uniform of Benito Mussolini’s fascist militia.

Tough deadline
Former NITI Aayog chief Amitabh Kant, a Modi favourite, was the surprise choice for the much coveted post of the G-20 Sherpa. The three-member committee of Kant, former foreign secretary Harsh Shringla as coordinator and Swagat Das as security in-charge has a tough task ahead. India is to host next year’s G-20 Summit, but Pragrati Maidan, which will be the summit headquarters, looks far from complete.

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