PATNA: The Rashtriya Janata Dal's (RJD's) response to the cloud of uncertainty hanging over Tejaswi Yadav, the deputy chief minister of Bihar, was to call in all its lawmakers and praise him to the sky.
That sets up a potential showdown between the RJB and Janata Dal (United), its partner in the ruling coalition of Bihar. The message of a meeting of RJD lawmakers was clear: Tejaswi, younger son of RJD supremo Lalu Prasad Yadav, will not resign in the face of a corruption case filed against him by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
And so the ball is now in chief minister Nitish Kumar's court: Will he now sack his deputy and endanger the future of the Mahagathbandhan, or will he now suspend for the time being his own flirtation with the NDA?
Nitish Kumar, who is currently recuperating from a bout of viral fever and cancelled his weekly Janata Durbar programme on Monday morning, was reportedly shocked by the RJD’s decision to let Tejaswi continue in the cabinet. Janata Dal (U) sources said Nitish Kumar cancelled the programme in order to avoid being seen in the company of the deputy chief minister.
After RJD announced its decision to stand by Tejaswi Yadav, Nitish Kumar held a meeting of JD(U) leaders at his residence to discuss the issue.
“The CM takes pride in the government’s policy of zero tolerance for corruption. He would like Tejaswi himself to put in his papers and take the moral high ground. In the event of that not happening, he will decide the next best step,” said a JD(U) leader close to the chief minister.
Earlier, the RJD meeting lasted two hours. Almost all of the party's legislators were there, and so were MPs, senior office-bearers and some former MPs. Tejaswi’s functioning as deputy chief minister was praised in glowing terms, and a categorical resolution was adopted to let the 28-year-old be in his post. No questiuon of nominating a Muslim placeholder asa a nod to propriety.
And as is the norm in India politics, they made the very man who was being speculated upon as Tejaswi's replacement say it. Senior party leader and finance minister in the government Abdul Bari Siddiqui said to journalists: “There is no question of Tejaswi stepping down. This issue was not discussed in the meeting. His work as deputy chief minister and leader of the RJD legislature party was praised by one and all."
Other party leaders described the raids last week by CBI and Enforcement Directorate on the premises of Lalu Prasad’s family as efforts by the Narendra Modi government, BJP and RSS to destabilise Bihar’s grand alliance of JD(U), RJD and Congress.
Jagadanand Singh, a former MP, said: “The BJP is demanding Tejaswi Yadav’s resignation after orchestrating these raids. But we know their game plan and we will not give in. We will not let the BJP dent the solid unity in the grand alliance.” Several other leaders said the BJP would have a right to demand Tejaswi’s resignation only if Prime Minister Narendra Modi removed Union minister Uma Bharti, who has been charge-sheeted in the Babri Masjid demolition case.
On the other side of the trenches, BJP leaders said they will begin a statewide agitation if Tejaswi Yadav ddi not resign or is not sacked by Nitish Kumar. Senior BJP leader and former deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi, whose serial allegations against the Lalu Prasad family have brought about this sequence of events, appealed to RJD legislators on Sunday to ask Tejaswi to resign in order not to “sully Bihar’s name”.