Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar has set tongues wagging with another of his famous flip-flops. Just months after initiating talks with the Congress-RJD for a pre-poll alliance in 2019, he is back on the other side of the political fence heaping praise on the RSS.

In a recent interview to a leading Hindi channel, Kumar lauded the Sangh for the consistency of its work, its commitment and its tremendous growth over the years.

Now, this is perhaps the first time that Kumar, who is an avowed Socialist, has praised the RSS publicly. He has always hidden behind the fig leaf of Vajpayee’s moderate face to justify his longterm alliance with the BJP since 1996. But he appears to have changed his line to extol the RSS.

Many in his party are uncomfortable with these public accolades for the RSS and the work it is doing. Most of his workers are Socialist by creed and while they have managed to work out a comfort level with the BJP, they remain opposed to the RSS ideology. Although Kumar also claimed that he does not subscribe to RSS beliefs, his praise for the organisation has upset his followers. They feel that Kumar is looking at his own self interest, not that of the party.

Their interpretation of his sudden love for the RSS is that he is trying to pitch for a larger role for himself in the NDA. They say he believes that the route to greater glory for himself in the NDA is through the BJP’s mentor and unofficial boss. Just like BJP leaders need the blessings of the RSS to get ahead, Kumar realizes that without the Sangh’s support, he will remain just another Bihari babu instead of someone who influences the course of the NDA’s politics.

The irony is that just a few months ago, he and the Congress were negotiating a homecoming for Kumar to the Bihar gathbandhan. In fact, according to sources in both parties, there was even a suggestion that JD(U) merge itself into the Congress in return for a top leadership post for Kumar. The deal never materialised and now it looks as if Kumar has decided that his future lies with the RSS, BJP and NDA.

Squeezed by allies

Both the BJP and the Congress are being given a hard time by their allies. If Shiv Sena and Apna Dal are squeezing the BJP to give them more space in the NDA (read more seats to contest in 2019), the JMM is playing hard to get with the Congress to finalise a pre-poll pact in Jharkhand.

The Congress has already tied up with Babulal Marandi’s JVM, which has agreed to contest 2 of Jharkhand’s 14 seats. JMM is demanding at least 4. There is another local tribal party that is also negotiating for a seat or two in this mahagathbandhan.

The Congress is in a tricky position. After the resounding snub from Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav in UP, the Congress party’s negotiating strength has weakened. The two UP behemoths have left just two of the state’s 80 seats for the Gandhi family and declared emphatically that there is no place for the Congress in the BSP-SP gathbandhan.

The snub from UP has definitely hit the party’s morale. This is what JMM is hoping to take advantage of and the Congress is trying hard to fight. After all, if JMM gets the better of it in Jharkhand, then the message would go out to other allies like DMK and NCP that the Congress is ready to crawl in front of regional satraps.

Surjewala for Jind

Why has the Congress party’s chief spokesman Randeep Surjewala been sent to contest the Jind assembly bye-poll in Haryana when he is already an elected MLA from Kaithal? Party circles say that Surjewala has fallen victim to factional feuds that continue to plague the Haryana Congress.

His growing prominence as the Congress media department head and his proximity to Rahul Gandhi have made him the leading candidate to be chief minister should the party win the assembly elections in October this year.

Congress sources say that his rivals lobbied very hard to persuade the high command to make Surjewala contest from Jind in the hope that they could cut him to size by ensuring his defeat.

They were so successful that all eight members of the party’s election committee approved Surjewala’s name for Jind. Speaker after speaker said that he is the only one who can wrest the seat for the Congress.

Ironically, Surjewala is a Jat and no Jat has ever won from Jind. His rivals had obviously decided to make him walk the plank. But now it seems their plans may just come unstuck. Reports from Jind so far suggest that Surjewala is fighting well and is actually gaining ground over his INLD and BJP rivals.

Congress sources attribute this unexpected turn of fortune to the widely perceived notion that Jind is a bell weather seat. When the Congress has won the seat, it has won the state. When it has lost Jind, the Congress has lost the state.

Five years ago, the INLD won the seat. The victory sounded the death knell for the Congress which was swept out of power. Of course, INLD failed to muster enough numbers to form the government because of internal divisions. The state passed into the hands of the BJP instead.

If Surjewala actually pulls off a victory, it may mean that the Congress is on its way back to power in Haryana. The question then is: will Surjewala be the chief minister or will he share the same fate as young leaders in other states like Sachin Pilot in Rajasthan and Jyotiraditya Scindia in Madhya Pradesh who were sidelined for the post of CM in favour of the old guard?