In a significant move, Nitish Kumar was appointed as President of Janata Dal (United). The outgoing chief Sharad Yadav had announced that he was not keen on a fourth term for a post he held since 2006. Party constitution allows only two terms and he already occupied the post for three terms. He was not keen or was he clearly told by Nitish to step aside. Looks like the latter! If party wanted to seriously appoint him, its constitution could have been amended again.
Nitish is known in the party circles to be the undisputed leader of JDU. He was occupying the CM chair taking care of the government while Sharad was the party President responsible for organization. In many ways semblance is being drawn to 2006 JDU Presidential elections when Nitish conspired with Sharad to get George removed as President.
Picture Courtesy: Indian Express
In 1999, Janata Dal (whatever was left of it after Lalu / Mulayam / Ajit Singh / Nitish / George had left the party) split into two factions – JD(U) led by Sharad Yadav and JD(S) led by Deve Gowda. Sharad joined BJP led NDA its erstwhile partner in Janata Party. Gowda opposed the move and Janata Dal split into two factions.
Samata Party of Nitish / George, Ramvilas Paswan and Sharad Yadav contested the 1999 LS polls under the banner of JDU. NDA won and all of them became ministers in Vajpayee govt. Things soured between them (as has always happened among ex Janata Dal constituents) and they fought on separate banners in 2001 state polls. Lalu won this close elections.
Under Vajpayee’s intervention Samata Party merged into JDU in 2003 to take on Lalu jointly in 2005. Though Paswan left the group and joined RJD / Congress led alliance in the state after Godhra riots. Hegde led Lok Shakti party also merged with JDU. George the senior most socialite was appointed was appointed as President of JDU.
Sharad Yadav felt a bit short charged at the turn of events. Both George (Defence) and Nitish (Railways) had plum ministries compared to Sharad (Civil Aviation / Labour). Samata Party merged into JDU. JDU was the parent organization, hence he should have been the President. Further he had acquired the status of a giant killer defeating Lalu in 1999 LS polls and thus felt that he deserved the post more.
Meanwhile NDA (BJP + JDU) dislodged Lalu from Bihar in Oct. 2005 and Vajpayee’s dream was realized. Only problem was NDA had lost 2004 LS polls, so Sharad was not a minister in central govt. Nitish became CM but he also knew that till George was at the helm he could not become the supreme leader in the party. The Chanakya that he is known as entered into a pact with Sharad. George lost the Presidential elections to Sharad helped by Nitish faction. The new arrangement meant Nitish would have full control over govt. and Sharad over party organization.
Problem with Sharad is that he is not a Bihari. Additionally JDU influence reduced over the years to only Bihar. While he did defeat Lalu from Bihar and NDA tried to pitch him as the leader of yadavs and alternative to charismatic Lalu, he lost out to him in 2004 and had to take the Rajya Sabha route. Nitish grip increased in the party and Sharad had to depend upon him for a RS berth. In 2009 Sharad again won from Madhepura and was back in LS.
Things were going on smoothly till in 2013 Nitish decided to part ways with BJP on anointment of Modi as party’s chief election campaigner. He was banking on Advani to be projected as NDA PM candidate (nobody could stop him from dreaming). Nitish rivalry with Modi was the prime reason for the divorce. Sharad was the NDA convenor and not particularly in favour of the decision. Many MLAs of JDU revolted during the course of next year and jumped onto BJP bandwagon.
Sharad couldn’t take up the courage to split the party. While he correctly estimated his strength (he didn’t have many MLAs in his camp), he under estimated the opposition in the party to this decision. If he would have taken the step, he would have remained as NDA convenor and got a plum ministry in Modi govt.
Sharad reconciled to the decision and JDU suffered a drubbing in LS polls in Bihar. JDU was reduced to 2 seats from 20. Sharad got a chance to hit back at Nitish. Sharad himself couldn’t save his seat. He held Nitish responsible for this drubbing and created pressure on Nitish to take moral responsibility for loss. Nitish took the high moral stand and resigned from CM post.
However, in a tit for tat move he nominated his chela and mahadalit Jiten Manjhi as CM thinking he would continue to act as remote control CM. Sharad was stunned by this move. Sharad played another card and roped in Lalu to support the Jiten Manjhi govt. after it reduced to a minority due to BJP pull out. Sharad though his “jaat bhai” will help him counter Nitish.
Jiten Ram Manhi rebelled in early part of 2015 against Nitish. Sharad again missed the bus as his support to Manjhi would have earned him brownie points from BJP and a central minister position. Oust Jiten Manjhi movement was started by shrewd Lalu who saw in Nitish only hope of getting back to power in the state. Sharad again could not gain courage.
Nitish came back as CM. Lalu won more seats than JDU and got his sons inducted in ministry. A happy ending for all. Sharad was left in the lurch. Nitish giant crusader image after he defeated Modi, has prompted Nitish to dream again to become PM. Now he realizes that he can’t win the state without Lalu. In LS polls if the same formula is repeated JDU would get only 16 seats to contest, even if they ditch Congress, max 20 seats. This won’t make him PM.
Efforts have been started to merge ex Janata Party colleagues under one umbrella starting with Ajit Singh’s RLD and Ex PM Chandrasekhar’s SJP. Nitish could try to rope in JDS and Lalu later, if Lalu is given the CM chair in Bihar, he won’t mind supporting Nitish as PM candidate. All this requires hard negotiations and Nitish as face for these efforts. Hence Nitish and his supporters advised Sharad to step aside and enable Nitish to lead the party. This in return for a RS berth as Sharad is due for re-nomination. Sharad had to accept this as he lacks support in party, rebels have moved out (Manjhi) and his jaat bhai Lalu is in no mood to take on Nitish at this moment.
So Nitish is now CM of party as well as President of JDU. A similar situation emerged in 1997 when Lalu was CM of Bihar and wanted to be appointed as President of Janata Dal which Sharad opposed and Lalu broke away to float his own party RJD. Life comes a full circle for Sharad. Only if he had shown courage, he would have been a prominent member of NDA cabinet. Also failure on part of BJP to manage and back Sharad to wean away MLAs from Nitish just after humiliating loss in 2014 is a tactical error on part of BJP.
Nitish taking cues from his adversary Modi has relegated Sharad to a mentor / margdarshak role just as Advani / Joshi in BJP….