Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's phone call to friend-turned-rival Lalu Prasad Yadav nearly a year after they parted ways has given rise to frenetic speculations about Kumar's next move, especially because of the chill in relations between his party and ally BJP over differences on seat-sharing for the next Lok Sabha polls.
Kumar, who is also JD(U) national president, called up the ailing RJD chief, currently under treatment at a Mumbai hospital, on Tuesday evening ostensibly to enquire about his health. Although Lalu, 70, has been hospitalised several times in recent months due to a host of ailments he is suffering from, Kumar had not called him earlier.
Leaders of both the JD(U) and the BJP insisted on Wednesday that it was just a courtesy call, but many agreed privately that it might be indicative of Kumar's keenness for a reconciliation with Lalu and the RJD.
Kumar's phone call came just hours after Lalu's younger son and former deputy chief minister Tejashwi Yadav said unequivocally that he is dead against the JD(U) chief's return to the grand alliance. "There is absolutely no question of his being welcomed in the grand alliance," Tejashwi, the de facto chief of RJD, said on Tuesday.
JD(U) national secretary general KC Tyagi asked Tejashwi to stop making “immature and indecent statements" and insisted that “all is well in the NDA”. “Nitish Kumar did not have any political talk with Lalu. It was simply a call to inquire about his health as he has undergone a surgery," Tyagi said, pointing out that Kumar had attended the wedding of Lalu's elder son in May "despite all the political tension".
BJP leader and Union minister Ashwini Choubey said political differences "can never eclipse human relations". JD(U) spokesperson Sanjay Singh asked, "Is it a crime to call him (Lalu)?"
However, party’s Rajya Sabha member RCP Singh, considered a Kumar confidant, ruled out any possibility of returning to the grand alliance. “Who will ally with the Congress? It is a sinking ship," he said.
RJD leaders, however, feel it is only a matter of time before Kumar switches sides. “He is a socialist and cannot take for long the way BJP is mistreating him," said a senior RJD leader.