Nitish refuses to buy Lalu claim, puts RJD on notice over graft

Nitish Kumar

PATNA: Uncertainty about the fate of the Nitish Kumar-led coalition in Bihar+ deepened on Tuesday after the chief minister refused to endorse his partner Lalu Prasad’s charge that a probe by central agencies into the assets acquired by his son and other family members was part of a political conspiracy.

Addressing a meeting of the JD(U) executive, Nitish Kumar said RJD needs to come up with a detailed explanation to the allegations of CBI and ED+ that members of Lalu’s family – wife Rabri Devi, son and deputy CM Tejashwi Yadav and daughters, including RS member Misha Bharti – illegally acquired properties worth hundreds of crores in different parts of the country.

The CM disengaged himself from others – Congress, Trinamool and SP leader Akhilesh – to say that the explanation put forward so far – that the RJD chief and his clan have been victims of a vast right-wing frame-up – was “not adequate”.

“What has been said so far may have satisfied your constituents, but is inadequate so far as convincing the larger public is concerned,” a source, quoting Nitish telling his JD(U) colleagues at the in-camera meeting.

The tone of Nitish’s remarks was set by JD(U) legislators and functionaries who said the party has benefited from the chief minister’s “zero tolerance” stance on corruption and could not afford to be seen as reversing itself.

This came amid indications that CBI and ED which are probing several charges of corruption against the deputy CM and more crucially Lalu’s putative political successor, and other members of his family, are pressing ahead with the investigation.

Significantly, the CM also chose to recall how he had in the past made his colleagues – Jitan Ram Manjhi, R N Singh, Avadhesh Singh Kushwaha and Ramadhar Singh – quit when they came under a cloud: something which was seen by many as a message to RJD that he might use the same yardstick should the central agencies follow through their interest in Tejashwi’s alleged Benami assets by charge-sheeting him.

RJD reacted to the development by repeating its “communal conspiracy” charge and by ruling out Tejashwi’s resignation.

JD(U), however, refused to backpedal. “JD(U)’s strength lies in the goodwill that Nitishji has acquired by reviving development in Bihar, stemming anarchy and because of his uncompromising stand against corruption. We cannot let down people who have reposed faith in his leadership,” Nitish’s close aide and JD(U) general secretary Sanjay Jha said.

 The unsentimental stand of JD(U) contrasted starkly with the mounting anxiety in RJD ranks over the consequences of the widening probe by central agencies for Tejashwi and suggests that the divergence can widen when the central agencies file the charge sheet – seen as a logical corollary of the high-profile probe – against RJD’s heir apparent.
The charges, as mentioned in CBI’s FIR lodged on July 5, pertain to Tejashwi’s part ownership in the Lara (Lalu- Rabri) projects, land for which were allegedly transferred in return for awarding contracts to run IRCTC-run hotels when Lalu was the railway minister under UPA.

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