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Chill in Nitish, INDIA ties grows: Boycott of TV anchors to coordination gaps to RJD minister row

While Bihar Chief Minister and Janata Dal (United) supremo Nitish Kumar has said he was ready for an early Lok Sabha election, he seems to be increasingly out of sync with the Opposition alliance INDIA or his senior partner in Bihar’s ruling Mahagathbandhan (grand alliance), the RJD, on various issues.

Among other issues, Nitish is said to be uncomfortable with the RJD’s alleged bid to sharpen “backward versus forward” politics by not reining in its Education Minister Chandra Shekhar, who continues to criticise Ramcharitmanas.

Last Saturday, Nitish denied having any idea about the 28-member INDIA bloc’s decision to boycott 14 TV anchors across several channels while accusing them of allegedly indulging in hate speech, even as his deputy, RJD leader Tejashwi Prasad Yadav, defended the decision.

Nitish said some members of the Opposition grouping might have felt there could be some problems with the TV anchors and thus might have taken the decision. “I have no idea about this. But I have always been for freedom of Press, which is under attack from those in power at the Centre. I assure you full freedom to practise your profession once we defeat the current dispensation,” he told reporters.

The BJP also appears to have softened its targeting of Nitish in recent days, with Union Home Minister Amit Shah remaining mild in his attack on him while addressing a rally at Jhanjharpur rally in Madhubani last Saturday. Shah likened Nitish to “water” and Lalu to “oil”, adding that “oil does not mix with water but ends up defiling it”. He also refrained from reiterating that the “BJP door has been shut for him for ever”.

JD(U) sources said while Nitish would continue to sail with the INDIA bloc, he was upset with his allies over “lack of proper coordination and communication” in the grouping. “Right from how joint rallies should be planned to how Left parties should be taken into confidence, to what should be the INDIA’s stand on caste census, we need more clarity,” said a JD (U) leader, requesting anonymity.

The leader said that the INDIA constituents had also not been entirely on the same page on key issues like the Women’s Reservation Bill and caste census.

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The JD(U) has taken a dim view of Chandra Shekhar’s repeated criticism of Tulsidas’s epic, with the party’s chief spokesperson Neeraj Kumar saying “Our ministers should focus on matters on governance rather than speaking on sensitive issues, especially on matters of religion”. Neeraj sought to play down differences within the INDIA alliance, though.

RJD national spokesperson Subodh Kumar Mehta said: “First, certain differences in state-wise alliances can happen. But our main objective is strengthening INDIA bloc. There are certain people who will keep raising doubts about its success but we have to get over it.”

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Mehta said his party also agreed with the JD(U) about the need for their ministers to focus on governance instead of commenting on emotive issues. He said, “There is also no ambiguity on our stand on Women’s Reservation Bill. We have sought ‘quota within quota’ (for OBC women) in this Bill right from the start as 96 per cent women who could become ministers at the Centre since Independence are from elite classes. Second, bringing the Bill eight months before the Lok Sabha polls is a political stunt under pressure of the INDIA bloc’s formation.”

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