In the last 24 hours, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has spoken on the phone to both Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, the mother-son combine that runs the Congress. The calls were made as the Bihar government, of which the Congress is a member, appears to be ungluing rapidly.
Nitish Kumar's party, the Janata Dal-United governs the state along with the Congress and Lalu Yadav. Last Friday, Lalu Yadav, 71 and his son, Tejashwi Yadav, were named in a CBI case for corruption and their homes and offices were raided. Sonia Gandhi phoned Lalu Yadav to express her party's support. So did leaders like Mamata Banerjee, agreeing that the case is another example of the central government's blatant persecution of its opponents Nitish Kumar offered no such fist-bump, which amplified talk of the alliance in Bihar running out of juice.
Yesterday, Nitish Kumar released the safety catch on the alliance by indicating he expects Tejashwi Yadav to resign as Deputy Chief Minister. The Yadavs have said that's not going to happen. The Congress is hoping to manage a compromise. Rahul Gandhi's conversation with Nitish Kumar "covered a range of issues", said JDU's SP Tyagi.
The tension in Bihar is propitiated, though only barely, by Nitish Kumar agreeing to remain among a stack of 18 opposition parties that are fighting the BJP on the election of the Vice President of India which will be held on August 5. The calls from the Gandhis thanked him for that gesture. Gopalkrishna Gandhi, the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi and the former Governor of Bengal, is the opposition's nominee. The BJP and its allies have yet to declare their candidate.
Last month, Nitish Kumar chose to back the BJP's choice for President of India, leaving the anti-BJP front considerably deflated. The Congress and Lalu Yadav both castigated him; he retorted that the Congress had created a "mess" in the opposition by taking too long to shortlist a contender.
The first-off-the-block action in picking the Vice President contender is a reaction to that accusation.
Rahul Gandhi has been keen to meet with Nitish Kumar to unbraid the tension in the Bihar arrangement. Last week, the Congress Vice-President ordered his party to stop reproaching the Chief Minister for backing the BJP in the presidential election, which will be held on Monday. This week, he wanted to meet Nitish Kumar in Delhi to mediate in the showdown with Lalu Yadav, but the Bihar leader called off his travel plans.
Nitish Kumar, mindful of his reputation as an honest administrator, is increasingly sure that they are a liability, said sources in his party, and is open to orbiting around the BJP instead.
Just two days ago, the BJP made its intent clear by stating that though it may not participate in a government led by Nitish Kumar, it is open to external support - which means it would ensure he wins a trust vote should he break with his current partners.