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Two calls framed PM Narendra Modi - Nitish Kumar comfort, CM felt ‘trapped’ by Lalu Prasad

This phone conversation, leaders said, should be seen in context of another phone call - PM had called Nitish in Nov '16, thanking him for his support on demonetisation.

Jul 28, 2017, 01.04 AM IST
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Kumar called the PM on Wednesday at 8.30 pm and thanked him for his “support” on “rejecting corruption”. Just an hour back the PM had tweeted, saying “the people of India” were with Kumar.
Kumar called the PM on Wednesday at 8.30 pm and thanked him for his “support” on “rejecting corruption”. Just an hour back the PM had tweeted, saying “the people of India” were with Kumar.
NEW DELHI: Bookended by two phone calls between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, the BJP-JD(U) reunion came into being as Kumar’s growing realisation on Lalu Prasad’s negatives was bolstered by positives that can come from an alliance with BJP.

Bihar is likely to get plenty of central attention when it comes to demands like grant of special status for funds allocation. Also, there has been no discussion yet on whether JD(U) will join the Union council of ministers. The focus right now is getting governance back on track in Bihar.

ET spoke to officials at the Centre and the state and party leaders of BJP and JD(U) for this report. They chose to speak off record.

Kumar called the PM on Wednesday at 8.30 pm and thanked him for his “support” on “rejecting corruption”. Just an hour back the PM had tweeted, saying “the people of India” were with Kumar.

Focus on Development
This “brief but cordial” phone conversation, leaders from both parties said, should be seen in the context of another phone call — the PM had called Kumar in November 2016, thanking the Bihar CM for his support on demonetisation.

“The two leaders are alike in their focus on development,” a senior official at the Centre said. Another pointed out that for the first time in 20 years, New Delhi and Patna will be ruled by the same political formation, with “clear implications for development”.

“Both Modi and Kumar believe in development. It won’t be surprising if the next round of success stories in terms of central schemes comes from Bihar. It would be exactly what the PM wants,” a senior official at the Centre said.

Kumar had handed over a letter to the PM on May 27 seeking special status for Bihar, which means the Centre would account for 90% of funds for centrally sponsored schemes. That request will get a serious hearing now, officials said. Parallely, the Centre now has hopes that Bihar will improve its performance on key schemes such as the PM Awas Yojana, PM Crop Insurance Scheme and Swachh Bharat.

Political leaders in Bihar said ties between JD(U) and RJD had started worsening a few months after Kumar took charge. “Lalu’s two sons used to control eight ministries. Lalu had started calling police station chiefs to meet him. These were things people had forgotten during the JD(U)-BJP rule. It was clear there was an attempt to run a parallel system,” a senior JD(U) leader said.

Asenior politician close to Kumar said after demonetisation, the Bihar CM would often talk about the “need to rein in benami transactions and land-grabbers, and all this while Lalu’s sons were sitting next to him”. This leader added: “The CM was very clear that he would lose his supporters to Modi if he didn’t control corruption.”

A BJP leader said Kumar’s frustration grew as he saw his emphasis on faster trial of those accused of criminal activities being threatened by RJD’s modus operandi. “The CM saw the old system being revived, and he couldn’t sit idle,” another JD(U) leader said.

He added that the CM had sought the party’s opinion and the predominant feeling was that Kumar was “getting trapped” in the Lalu family’s “way of doing things”.

The corruption charges on Lalu Prasad and raids against the family came as the final provocation, the leaders said.

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