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Behind the handshake: what explains the Nitish-Kejriwal bonhomie

Panini Anand | Updated on: 16 July 2015, 12:27 IST

Arvind Kejriwal has found an important supporter in his fight for full statehood for Delhi: Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar.

Kumar has assured his Delhi counterpart that his party, the Janata Dal (United), would raise the statehood issue in the upcoming Monsoon Session of Parliament.

"Delhi should get full statehood status. People cast their vote with a lot of enthusiasm in the Assembly elections. People know who they are voting for. They think that everything, including law and order, comes under the the government's control. The police is not under the state government. People won't understand that," Kumar said on 14 July.

Of course, there are no free lunches in politics and Kumar surely has some political calculations in mind.

There are rumours that Kumar requested Kejriwal not to field candidates in the upcoming assembly elections in Bihar but that doesn't seem to have been part of the Bihar CM's gameplan.

The optics

So what exactly is Kumar after? The photograph of the two shaking hands enthusiastically has several political messages embedded.

The Bihar CM is reeling under 10 years of anti-incumbency. Appearing with the AAP leader, who is seen as an agent of change in Delhi, can help Kumar capture the imagination of the urban middle class and youth.

Delhi has a large population of Bihari migrants. Nitish's bonding with Kejriwal can send a message in Bihar

Kumar's spin doctors can project this photo-op as the coming together of two leaders who stand for accountability and honesty in governance.

Kumar is trying to identify himself as a leader who stands for a new kind of politics. He also wants to send the signal that he will stand firm against Narendra Modi, while delivering on his promises as well.

The votes

Of course, it is election time and every political move is aimed at grabbing votes.

Delhi has a high percentage of people who have migrated from Bihar. They voted overwhelmingly for the AAP during the Assembly elections in February. Kumar's bonding with Kejriwal carries a message back home.

The style

Faced with a rising BJP, Kumar is trying every trick in the book to turn things around in Bihar, even adopting the campaign strategies followed by Modi and Kejriwal.

Like the two leaders, the Bihar CM has gone for a highly personality-oriented campaign in the state. But will AAP support Nitish Kumar in Bihar? Or will they put up candidates in the Assembly elections?

The friendship

Kumar is one of Kejriwal's oldest political friends. In fact, he is the first CM who gave space to Kejriwal and his Right to Information campaign. No other CM welcomed him.

In 2007, Kejriwal and Manish Sisodia helped the Bihar government in establishing RTI helplines in the state. Kejriwal later described it as a great effort towards transparency and accountability by the state government.

When Kejriwal contested against Modi in Varanasi, Kumar campaigned for him.

In the Delhi elections earlier this year, the JD(U) didn't put up any candidates and announced its support for AAP in all seats except Najafgarh where the INLD was contesting.

When Kejriwal sparred with the Delhi Lieutenant Governor over appointment of officials to the Anti-Corruption Bureau, the Delhi CM requested the Bihar government to send officers on deputation. Kumar's government readily agreed.

The hitches

Of course, AAP has ruled out the possibility of supporting JD(U), especially given the latter's alliance with Lalu Prasad who has been convicted in the fodder scam.

Supporting Kumar would also restrict AAP's plans of expanding in future.

"We have not yet ruled out the possibility of contesting assembly elections in Bihar. Teams responsible for 'Mission Vistar' have visited the state. They had meetings with the workers there. It needs to be assessed whether we wil contest or not," says an AAP insider.

Sanjeev Jha, AAP MLA from Burari, hails from Bihar. He has visited the state recently to assess the potential for the party. A workers' summit was also conducted.

But the more JD(U) raises the Delhi statehood issue in Parliament, the more difficult it becomes for AAP to fight against it in Bihar.

First published: 16 July 2015, 1:11 IST
Panini Anand @paninianand

Senior Assistant Editor at Catch, Panini is a poet, singer, cook, painter, commentator, traveller and photographer who has worked as reporter, producer and editor for organizations including BBC, Outlook and Rajya Sabha TV. An IIMC-New Delhi alumni who comes from Rae Bareli of UP, Panini is fond of the Ghats of Varanasi, Hindustani classical music, Awadhi biryani, Bob Marley and Pink Floyd, political talks and heritage walks. He has closely observed the mainstream national political parties, the Hindi belt politics along with many mass movements and campaigns in last two decades. He has experimented with many mass mediums: theatre, street plays and slum-based tabloids, wallpapers to online, TV, radio, photography and print.