The strain in the ruling ‘Mahagathbandhan’ in Bihar grew deeper on Tuesday with Chief Minister Nitish Kumar-led Janata Dal (United) breaking its silence over Tejashwi Yadav, the younger son of RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav and the Deputy Chief Minister of the state facing heat from the Central Bureau of Investigation over charges of corruption.
While RJD rejected the possibility of Tejashwi quitting, the JD(U) has asked him to place facts before the public to dispel graft charges, just stopping short of demanding his resignation. For the purpose, the RJD has been given an ultimatum of four days.
JD(U) leader Neeraj Kumar, after a crucial meeting of the party, said that people accused of wrongdoings should present their case before public with facts.
“Those who were charged should put the facts before the public…we have proved before the nation that we have zero tolerance for corruption,” Neeraj, the JD(U)’s state spokesman, told reporters after a party meeting.
Nitish, on the other hand, is yet to publicly comment on the issue of CBI raids on premises linked to Tejashwi and his family members.
The raids were carried out in connection with handing over the maintenance of two railway-run hotels to private parties allegedly in return for a prime piece of land to Lalu's family in Patna.
However, according to party sources, Nitish told his leaders that he would not tolerate any stain on the clean image of his government and people against whom accusations have been levelled should quit the post. He is believed to have conveyed the same message to Lalu Yadav as well.
"People of Bihar and political groups in the nation know our tradition on matters like crime and corruption," Nitish was quoted as saying in the meeting.
"There are examples in the government headed by JD(U) of taking hard decisions for sake of political proprietary," he added.
Without naming RJD chief Lalu and Tejashwi, Nitish Kumar said fact-wise reply should be given in public by those against whom allegations of corruption had surfaced.
"So far, the reply or explanation given by them is not satisfactory. They should come out with fact-wise reply in public."
The terse message from the JD(U) camp notwithstanding, the RJD once again ruled out the resignation of Tejashwi.
In an interview to a news channel, Lalu Yadav clarified that Tejashwi will not resign as the Deputy CM, adding that the BJP is showing Nitish Kumar fake dreams.
Meanwhile, the BJP said on Monday that it will wait for 4-5 days for Nitish Kumar to take action against his deputy. "JD(U) has put the ball in RJD's court ... We will wait for the next four-five days to see what action Nitish Kumar takes against Tejashwi Yadav," senior BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi said.
Modi recalled how Kumar had in the past acted against his ministers after their names cropped up in corruption cases. Kumar had accepted the resignations of ministers Jitan Ram Manjhi, Awadhesh Kushwaha, Ramanand Singh and Ramadhar Singh in the past for their alleged involvement in criminal cases.
JD(U)’s alliance with Lalu Yadav’s RJD has been teetering since his family came under CBI scanner over land scams and corruption. This episode adds to the discontent within central opposition parties over Nitish Kumar’s position on crucial issues – be it supporting the BJP on issues like demonetisation and surgical strikes and, more significantly, their choice for the President Ram Nath Kovind.
However, Nitish Kumar has so far maintained a safe distance from the media in what many see as a deliberate tactic to avoid queries on his stand vis-a-vis the CBI raids on Lalu Prasad and his family and continuance of the RJD chief's two sons in the government.
Toeing the middle path for now, his position was revealed in two different meetings on Tuesday, one in Delhi where JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav backed the Opposition candidate for Vice-President and the second in Patna where the RJD has been given four days’ time to come clean on Tejashwi Yadav.
At the same time, Nitish made it clear that he doesn’t want the grand alliance government to fall over the issue. “We know how to respect coalition dharma. We will follow it till our last breath. But we do hope that the charges will be countered in public,” said a JD(U) spokesperson.
In an interesting twist to the developments in Bihar, the state BJP has said that it is ready to offer outside support to Nitish Kumar if he decides to leave the ruling Grand Alliance. The statement, however, was later modified to say that only the BJP can offer good governance in the state.