Days after telling a gathering of young voters that he had helped people become chief minister and prime minister, Janata Dal (United) national vice-president Prashant Kishor ruffled feathers again when he said that Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar should have sought a fresh mandate when he left the mahagathbandhan to join the NDA in July 2017. Kishor’s remarks came out of the blue and clearly upset the JD(U) senior leadership. JD(U) spokesperson Neeraj Kumar slammed Kishor for questioning the wisdom of the party and pursuing a personal agenda.
Neeraj Kumar, a member of the Legislative Council, has been Nitish’s trusted lieutenant for years and is also close to senior JD(U) leader R.C.P. Singh. Kishor, on the other hand, was inducted in September last year with Nitish making him the second in command in the JD(U) hierarchy. Kishor superseded senior leaders, causing some heartburn in the party. His emergence as the national vice-president was also seen as a move to downsize the party’s unofficial number twoSingh, who is the JD(U)’s national general secretary (organisation).
For a party member to say that Nitish should have gone for a fresh mandate is clearly against the official line, says Neeraj Kumar. The alacrity with which Neeraj Kumar has responded suggests that the party spokesperson has the backing of the top leadership, believes a senior JD(U) leader.
JD(U) sources privately admit that there are two factions in the party: the first consists of those who wish to continue the alliance with the BJP; this group is against the rise of Kishor. The second group sees Nitish as too big a leader to be confined to Bihar. While Singh is seen as the leader of the first group, Kishor is the architect of the second, says another JD(U) leader. Singh, though he is no pushover as a leader, is not seen as an effective party manager. He toured the state extensively to try and energise party workers, but to no avail. A 1984 batch IAS officer of the Uttar Pradesh cadre, Singh took voluntary retirement in 2010 to work with Nitish. He was first elected to the Rajya Sabha in 2010, and was private secretary to Nitish during his tenure as the railway minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government.
On the other hand, Kishor, with his independent views, has given critics many opportunities to target him in the recent past. From apologising on Twitter after NDA leaders did not pay homage to a slain CRPF trooper whose body arrived in Patna on March 3 to being the first to welcome Priyanka Gandhi’s formal entry into politics, Kishor may well be a threat to the JD(U) old guard. He is also credited with playing a key role in the electoral successes of Narendra Modi in 2014 and the JD(U)-RJD-Congress mahagathbandhan in the 2015 Bihar assembly election.
But to dismiss Neeraj Kumar’s verbal attack on Kishor will be oversimplification of the crisis as just a war of two factions within the JD(U), says a senior leader.
What baffles many is the fact that Nitish is yet to speak on the issue. With the Lok Sabha poll less than a month away, Nitish obviously needs all his friends, both old and new, to meet the electoral challenge.