Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar gave his VIP cavalcade a miss on Sunday evening when he sauntered a few hundred metres to attend the ‘Iftar’ party hosted by his deputy Tejashwi Yadav.
The march towards 10, Circular Road, reminded people of a similar sight a year ago when Kumar’s visit to the house allotted to his predecessor in power Rabri Devi, who is Yadav’s mother, had given an inkling of the political cataclysm the JD(U) supremo was set to trigger in a few months.
Now, firmly in the ‘Mahagathbandhan’, Kumar reached the venue smilingly, flanked on either side by confidants Rajiv Ranjan Singh alias Lalan, the JD(U)’s national president, and Vijay Kumar Chaudhary, a minister known to be the ‘trouble shooter’ of his boss.
The young Deputy CM, who was donning a ‘Pathan’ suit, welcomed the visitors with bouquets of flowers and placed skullcaps on their heads, a practice followed by practitioners of ‘secular’ politics in Bihar, which the BJP, their natural opponent, has always been all too happy to denounce as an alleged gesture of ‘appeasement’.
As Kumar and his loyalists took their seats, beside hosts Yadav and Rabri Devi, there was a sudden wave of excitement upon the arrival of Chirag Paswan, who has earned the reputation of being the chief minister’s most venomous detractor. Those not familiar with Bihar politicos’ ability to keep personal relationships and political rivalries apart, watched agape as the LJP (Ram Vilas) chief touched the feet of the septuagenarian, an old associate of his late father Ram Vilas Paswan.
“I have family relations with Lalu Prasad (RJD supremo) and his family, so I come here every year. My differences with Nitish Kumar are policy-based and not personality-based”, Paswan told reporters afterwards.
The Jamui MP, who has in the past accused Kumar of disrespecting his late father during his lifetime, remains a politically ambivalent figure despite his open admiration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and, in a few recent assembly by-polls, having canvassed for the BJP.
When Union Home Minister Amit Shah recently expressed hopes of BJP winning “all 40 Lok Sabha seats”, it was portrayed in a section of the media as the indication that the national party may not give much weightage to allies in the state where it is pitted against the seven-party ‘Mahagathbandhan’.
When Paswan was asked about Shah’s contention, he replied with trademark nonchalance “my party, too, is preparing for all the 40 seats. How many we will actually fight will be decided later on”.
The young leader’s bravado seems to have riled his uncle Pashupati Kumar Paras, who remains miffed at having lost the limelight to the nephew, despite proclamations of being the real political heir of late Paswan.
“Do not call Chirag my ‘bhateeja’ (nephew). The blood flowing in our veins is not the same. My party remains a firm ally of the NDA”, snapped Paras, who had revolted against his nephew in 2021, splitting the Lok Janshakti Party, and winning a berth in the Union cabinet later on.
Paras was asked about Chirag Paswan’s political trajectory at a press conference where he had sought to showcase his own achievements, in the last couple of years, as the Minister for Food Processing Industries.
Meanwhile, for 33 years old Yadav, the optics at the ‘Iftaar’ served as an opportunity to assert that young age notwithstanding, he was bracing for the long haul and one whom political players of different hues took seriously.
Others who turned up at the feast hosted by the Deputy CM included state Congress president Akhilesh Prasad Singh, former Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi and Jan Adhikar Party founder Pappu Yadav.