Nitish Kumar’s party on Sunday formally thanked Rahul Gandhi for his speech on Saturday at Jantar Mantar, which, the JD(U) said, steered clear of personal attacks on the Bihar Chief Minister. This was the first time the party reached out to the Congress after Mr Kumar ended the Grand Alliance in Bihar last July to head a new government in partnership with the BJP. In the power corridors of Patna, the gesture is seen as the upset party’s message to ally BJP.
The huge protest at Jantar Mantar over the Muzaffarnagar child rapes was an initiative of Bihar opposition leader Tejashwi Yadav, meant to discredit Mr Kumar’s government, where he and many other speakers had called for the Chief Minister’s resignation.
“If Nitish Kumar is really ashamed, he should quickly take action… Prove it by your work,” the Congress president had said in a brief speech before the opposition leaders symbolically led a candle march to India Gate.
Calling Mr Gandhi’s address a “measured and balanced speech” at a press conference in Delhi, senior JD(U) leader KC Tyagi said the “stern action on the issue expected from Nitish-ji is taking place and the results will be there for all to see”.
The very public move comes in the wake of tacit criticism from the Bihar Governor over the Muzaffarpur rapes that is seen by the JD(U) as a fallout of Mr Kumar’s criticism of several union ministers of the BJP.
The Chief Minister had made his displeasure felt for what he said were attempts “to divide the society”, which was seen as an embarrassment to the BJP.
A buzz about tension between Nitish Kumar and the BJP had spiked over seat sharing in the coming elections, prompting a quick visit by party chief Amit Shah to Patna.
Meeting the Chief Minister twice in a day, Amit Shah, in an effort to scotch speculation, said the opposition should “stop drooling” about infighting as nothing of the sort would happen. The parties, he said, will contest together and win all 40 seats in the state.
Sources in the Congress said Rahul Gandhi had avoided singling out Mr Kumar to send a tacit message that highlights the BJP stance. It was also an indirect rebuke to ally Tejashwi Yadav, who had not skipped assembly when the Muzaffarpur issue was discussed in House, but was also caught leveling baseless allegations.
One instance of that was when the Bihar leader of opposition said Brajesh Thakur’s name was not in the FIR – an allegation that flew in face of facts. He also alleged that a key witness in the case was forced to run away – which was not the case. Only one child, a speech impaired seven-year-old had done so and she was not a witness in the case, the police had said.