For weeks, Lalu Yadav struggled to find equilibrium between the competing pull of fatherhood and politics. He succumbed today to the former, impelling the end of the government that he was an essential part of in Bihar. Of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who has ended their alliance today, Lalu Yadav alleged betrayal. “He told me he would rather be destroyed than shake hands with the BJP,” he said, claiming that a lengthy phone conversation with Nitish Kumar last night did not hint in any way at the shape of things to come.
After a meeting with the 80 legislators of his party today, Lalu Yadav, seated next to wife and politician Rabri Devi, announced that their son, Tejashwi, would not quit as Deputy Chief Minister of Bihar despite being named in a corruption case filed earlier this month by the CBI. Devoid of his trademark one-liners, Lalu Yadav said that the long stretch of headlines about Tejashwi Yadav’s resignation being demanded by his boss was not correct.
Hours later, at about 7 pm, a resignation was indeed provided. Except it wasn’t Tejashwi Yadav’s. In an unexpected play, one that he said was “driven by his conscience”, Nitish Kumar met the Bihar Governor to inform him he was done with his job. As it currently stands. He did not rule out rebooting an alliance with the BJP, with whom he split acrimoniously in 2013. “Whatever is best for Bihar,” he said, when reporters asked him about his next step.
It was clear this morning that the political theatre of Bihar was heading into its final act. The assembly meets for its new session on Friday, and Nitish Kumar told his party he would not participate in it without ridding his government of corruption. Much of his considerable standing is mined from his image as “Suhasan Babu” (Governance Sir). He would not allow that to be diminished, he said.
At a separate meeting, Lalu Yadav told his lawmakers that they must circle their wagons around Tejashwi, who, he said, could be sacked. The tenor was of a worried father seeking to protect his son, said sources, and at complete odds with the swagger, he exhibited after the meeting, declaring to reporters, “Why would I destabilize Nitish Kumar’s government? I got him installed as Chief Minister.”
Then he cancelled plans to fly to Ranchi where he is due in court tomorrow for a different corruption case; he decided to drive instead, which gave him a few more hours in Patna as the fire spread.
Nitish Kumar after quitting told reporters that he had tried to make things work with the Yadavs. Both he and Lalu Yadav said that the resignation of Tejashwi Yadav was never sought; both agreed that what the Chief Minister was insistent on was a detailed defense to the legislators of their alliance, as well as to the public. “This is an obviously farzi (fake) case,” said Lalu Yadav, “I told him neither you nor your party are a police station to whom we have to offer a defense. We will make it to the appropriate authorities.”
The corruption case proved in some ways to be a gold rush for Nitish Kumar, who for months had appeared restless in his alliance with Lalu Yadav and the Congress as their third partner. In November, he was the lone opposition stalwart to enthusiastically back Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ban on high-denomination notes; last month, he defected from a front of 18 opposition parties to back the BJP’s candidate for President and not theirs. “He has colluded with the BJP,” said Lalu Yadav today, noting that Nitish Kumar has not rejected the possibility of a new arrangement with the BJP.
For Lalu Yadav, the break up comes at a time when his wife and children are confronting an array of criminal charges ranging from money-laundering to an illicit and benami (proxy-owned) real estate portfolio. Being part of a government would offer some insulation against tough investigations, he had calculated. The case against Tejashwi Yadav and him alleges that while he was union Railways Minister in the previous Congress-led government, he traded lucrative contracts that leased railways hotels to private firms for three acres in Patna that were eventually assigned to Tejashwi and his siblings. The land was being developed as Bihar’s biggest mall – by a lawmaker from his party – till the centre stopped the construction in June.
What is also rankling Lalu Yadav is that in 2015, when he tied up with Nitish Kumar and the Congress, it was his party that won the most seats in Bihar. He said that he would honour a pre-election commitment to installing Nitish Kumar as Chief Minister. The loyalty, he alleged today, has been squandered.