PATNA: The widening gulf between Bihar’s two political stalwarts and allies – chief minister Nitish Kumar of JD(U) and RJD boss Lalu Prasad Yadav – was visible on Friday as the duo sat side by side for an hour and relished iftaar delicacies together, but did not exchange even a single word.
All eyes were on the iftaar party hosted by Yadav at his residence, and Nitish Kumar’s presence there, and JD(U)’s allies – RJD and Congress – were expecting Kumar to indicate a rethink of his decision to support NDA’s Presidential candidate Ram Nath Kovind.
Lalu Yadav had appealed to Kumar to change his decision and back UPA’s Presidential candidate Meira Kumar.
After exiting Lalu Yadav’s residence, Nitish Kumar not only made it clear that there was no going back on JD(U)’s avowed support for Kovind, but also spoke of the Opposition parties in jeering tones. At the same time, Nitish Kumar, who is JD(U)’s national president, called for Opposition unity to make a “strategy for victory” in the 2019 general elections.
The rift between Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav was apparent, though the two leaders sat next to each other there was no exchange of words, or smiles as they sat through the iftaar party for an hour. At the end, when they hugged each other for the media, a clear lack of warmth was noticeable.
The iftaar party was attended by ministers and senior leaders of Bihar’s three ruling parties – JD(U), RJD and Congress.
“This decision is well thought out. I have nothing to say to other people’s views,” said Nitish, apparently alluding to Yadav’s appeals, his stress on the “ideological battle” and his description of Meira Kumar as “Bihar’s daughter”.
Nitish said he had informed Lalu Yadav, Sonia Gandhi and Sitaram Yechury of his views on Ramnath Kovind. “My thinking is clear. Kovind’s tenure as Bihar Governor has been very clean and impartial. His elevation is a matter of pride for Bihar… I told them this person was not linked to RSS. He is more aligned to Morarjee Desai,” he told journalists.
“It is not proper to make the Presidential poll an issue of political confrontation. We should rather make a strategy for 2019. I do not think this (Presidential poll) is a step in that direction,” said Nitish.
While he praised Meira Kumar as a “remarkable personality,” he pointedlyasked, “She is being described as Bihar’s daughter, but was Bihar’s daughter nominated for defeat? Bihar’s daughter should be nominated when there are chances of victory. There were two lost occasions”.
“If there is so much concern for Bihar’s daughter, then we should make a strong strategy for 2019 and make Bihar’s daughter President in 2022. This time she is only a candidate, and she is destined to be defeated,” added Nitish.
He denied that his support to Ramnath Kovind was weakening the Opposition’s unity and said it would not impact Bihar’s alliance government.