Lalu Yadav has sought an extension of the 72-hour deadline set by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to rescue their alliance from collapse, said sources. On Tuesday, Mr Kumar, 66, set the timer after publicly declaring he would not tolerate corruption in his administration. Privately, he reportedly conveyed that the window would close tomorrow (Saturday) evening.
Lalu Yadav's son, Tejashwi Yadav, is Deputy Chief Minister; both are accused by the CBI of an illicit land deal. Nitish Kumar has indicated that he would prefer for Tejashwi Yadav to exit the government, but if that's likely to take time, he wants the Yadavs to present in public a detailed rebuttal to the CBI's charges.
Both parties - Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal United or JD(U) and Lalu Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Dal or RJD - have denied reports of a 72-hour deadline, but without much conviction. Neeraj Kumar of the JD(U) said yesterday,"Tejashwi Yadav is yet to explain the charges made against him" suggesting there is a countdown in place. Today, a senior colleague of his, KC Tyagi, made it clear that a stand-off exists and that the Congress, the third member of the Bihar government, should mediate. "Sonia Gandhi should intervene and talk to both parties," he told reporters, referring to the Congress chief. "There is no deadline, but the questions about the corruption charges should not go unanswered."
Lalu Yadav's party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal or RJD, has tried to indicate it is under no pressure, mainly because it has the most seats in the Bihar assembly- 80 of 234 - which means its clout is formidable. "Tejashwi will not resign at any cost. The RJD has 80 legislators. We will do what we want," a party leader Bhai Virender said in Patna. But the RJD's swagger is a bit clunky because the main opposition party in the state, the BJP, has already volunteered external support -siding with Nitish Kumar in a vote to keep him in office - if Lalu Yadav cuts off his supply.
Lalu Yadav, however, has indicated that's unlikely. "I will not allow the maha-gathbandhan (alliance) to suffer ," he told ndtv.com last evening, signaling that his son may eventually yield the resignation sought by Nitish Kumar. Sources in his party, the RJD, say that furious negotiations between their camp and that of the Chief Minister are underway to decide the modalities of Tejashwi Yadav's exit. What the Yadavs reportedly want is enough time for Tejashwi to present his case, possibly at a large public meeting, in which he will reiterate that the corruption case against his father and him are blatant persecution by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP Chief Amit Shah of political opponents. Though the Yadavs have made this claim repeatedly, Nitish Kumar has expressed no support for it, unlike other opposition bosses like Sonia Gandhi.
Next week, Nitish Kumar will travel to Delhi to lead a meeting of his party's national executive which will be attended by about 400 JD(U) members. It is likely that he will meet Mrs Gandhi and her son, Rahul Gandhi, on the same trip, especially if, by then, they have initiated couples counselling for Lalu Yadav and the Chief Minister.
Any breakthrough, however, is likely to be about as effective as a band-aid for a gaping wound, said JD(U) sources who believe the Chief Minister is determined that it is time to end his association with the Yadavs, whose increasing stack of corruption charges is turning into a multi-car pile-up. The stated availability of the BJP to help keep him in power, as also incontrovertible evidence of PM Modi's wide appeal among voters, will mobilize Nitish Kumar's migration to a new alliance with the party ahead of the next general election, believe his own party leaders as well as his allies. The dissembling has begun.