The shape of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's government in Bihar will be determined by whether his 28-year-old deputy, Tejashwai Yadav, complies with broad hints to resign after being accused of corruption by the CBI. Today, the focus of political parties is on ensuring their lawmakers back their choice for President of India and do not vote for the other side. After that, sources said, the Congress will look at whether Tejashwi Yadav can be purged by Nitish Kumar or whether "coalition dharma" requires a voluntary opt-out by the young politician.
Bihar is run by three parties: Tejashwi Yadav's father, Lalu Yadav, brings the most lawmakers to the table; next is Nitish Kumar's party, the Janata Dal (United) or JD(U); the Congress is the smallest player, but its chief, Sonia Gandhi, has been asked to mediate the current standoff, now nearly 10 days old.
On July 7, Lalu Yadav's Patna home and other properties were raided by the CBI which says that he abused his earlier term as union Railways Minister to acquire valuable real estate at throwaway prices for his children including Tejashwi Yadav. While other opposition leaders including Sonia Gandhi backed Lalu Yadav's contention of the case being an instrument of political vendetta by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, no such agreement came forth from Nitish Kumar, who said the Yadavs' defence was inadequate and implied that Tejashwi Yadav should resign.
The Yadavs and their party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal or RJD, have said it's unfair to expect a resignation based on accusations by the CBI. No evidence has been offered thus far, they claim, because the agency has not yet produced a chargesheet which would mean a case is filed in court. But Nitish Kumar says that his "zero-tolerance towards corruption" policy cannot be undermined. On Friday, his aides confirmed that he had phoned Sonia Gandhi to suggest she lead the negotiations for a resolution.
"There's no question of making any concession," said Sanjay Singh, a spokesperson for the Chief Minister's party, as the Congress' top leader in Bihar, Ashok Chaudhary, confabulated with both warring parties.
Lalu Yadav, sources say, is contemplating pulling all 12 ministers, including Tejashwi and his older brother Tej Pratap from the government; however, he would, in that case, provide external support or vote with Nitish Kumar's JD(U) on policy issues and a trust vote for the Chief Minister. That would allow him to retain some authority while his children are being investigated for graft, and test Nitish Kumar's resistance to rival BJP, which in recent months stands considerably depleted.
Apart from enthusiastically espousing Prime Minister Narendra Modi's November decision to ban high-denomination notes, Nitish Kumar has chosen to back the BJP's candidate for President of India in today's election, which means he is voting against his allies who have put up their own nominee.
The BJP has abandoned any coyness and said that it is also ready with external support should Nitish Kumar cut short the run of his current arrangement. The Chief Minister is expected in Delhi on Saturday for a meeting and is likely to meet with Sonia Gandhi. Sources close to him say he wants to convey that he gave his best to saving the alliance in Bihar before exiting it; sources in Lalu Yadav's party, on the other hand, say their boss will try to expose Nitish Kumar's anti-BJP credentials as feigned.