Nitish Is Not Leaving the Bihar Alliance: Pavan Varma to The Quint

JD(U)’s Pavan Varma clarifies that the Mahagathbandhan is limited to Bihar, not national issues. 

6 min read

JD(U) leader Pavan Varma speaks to The Quint about why the Bihar Chief Minister went with the NDA’s choice for President, Ram Nath Kovind, and why that doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the grand Bihar alliance.

Is Nitish Kumar set to leave the Mahagatbandhan for the NDA?

No, I think that’s a facile assumption. One must be careful in drawing inferences from specific events without a factual basis.

Nitish Is Not Leaving the Bihar Alliance: Pavan Varma to The Quint
(Graphics: The Quint/Harsh Sahani)

He had demonstrated this approach even when he was member of the NDA and he had supported Pranab Mukherjee who was then the UPA candidate. Now, when he is not a member of the NDA, he felt that on merit and after due application of mind and full consultations within the party, that Mr Ram Nath Kovind has the credentials to occupy the highest post of the land. This assessment was not random, was not politically motivated. This assessment was based on his experience and that of the people of Bihar of Mr Ram Nath Kovind’s conduct as the Governor of Bihar. He had, by all accounts, behaved as a copybook Governor – impartial, judicious, following constitutional propriety, and without any agenda that seemed to be representative of one particular party or faction. So therefore, given his background and our experience, he felt that Mr Ram Nath Kovind is a suitable candidate for the post of the President of India. To give any other interpretation to this decision is, I believe, motivated, and we have said that such comments are unwarranted.

The process of the selection, nomination and election of the President is a political process. What statement is he making by going against his allies in Bihar?

Please recall that the call for opposition unity as the crying need of the hour was made by Mr Nitish Kumar, even before the recent elections, even that in Uttar Pradesh. He has been saying that we need to get together but on the basis of a credible narrative, an alternative vision of India. He also believes that on the question of the choice of President, there is no need necessarily for political confrontation if the candidate is good. That choice by itself cannot be the basis of opposition unity and that is what he demonstrated through his actions.

And let me tell you, he conveyed his message to the President of the Congress party, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, that according to him, in terms of his behaviour and role as Governor, he thinks he is a good choice and this should be taken into account. But one day before the meeting of certain opposition parties took place to consider a candidate for the President, Mr Ghulam Nabi Azad was in Patna and said publicly that the UPA will put up a candidate, irrespective of any other issue against Mr Kovind. At that point, since we are not members of the UPA, Mr Nitish Kumar decided to go ahead with his choice.

Would his decision have been any different had Ms Meira Kumar’s candidature been announced earlier?

Nitish Is Not Leaving the Bihar Alliance: Pavan Varma to The Quint

Ultimately, when the BJP announced its name, in our position, where as Governor, we had seen him functioning in a constitutional post, Mr Nitish Kumar – on the basis of merit – felt that he was a good candidate.

I cannot say what would’ve happened if the opposition had a candidate already pre- announced prior to the BJP, which incidentally, I may say, a more pro-active opposition could’ve done.

Nitish Is Not Leaving the Bihar Alliance: Pavan Varma to The Quint
(Graphics: The Quint/Harsh Sahani)

So we had to keep all factors in mind. We believed that the selection or the backing of the choice for a President is not a matter for political confrontation and the merits of the candidate should be the more influencing factor.

Had the opposition come out with the name of a candidate in time or in advance of the BJP’s choice, Mr Nitish Kumar would’ve judged that candidate also on merit. But the fact of the matter is, the opposition did not. And once Mr Kovind’s name was announced, he did convey his feelings on the matter to the chairperson of the UPA, Mrs Sonia Gandhi.

Has the Congress mishandled Nitish Kumar?

I don’t believe I’m in a position to make that statement.

Nitish Is Not Leaving the Bihar Alliance: Pavan Varma to The Quint
(Graphics: The Quint/Harsh Sahani)

On national issues, each of its constituents are free to take a position in accordance with what each party believes to be the best choice.

Do you think that it’s a principled decision or an opportunistic one? Going against his alliance partners was bound to raise a question mark on the future of the Mahagatbandhan because the ultimate question is, who’s going to lead the opposition in 2019?

The need for a new narrative which provides an alternative vision for India, which gives the voter a choice between what is and what should be – that need is paramount. That need needs to be fulfilled by manners and ways other than merely seeking a confrontation on the presidential choice. That groundwork, that application of mind, that search for a narrative, that pan-Indian organisational effort has yet to be made. And that is why I had earlier said to The Quint, that the opposition needs to wake up ad smell the coffee.

But who can lead that campaign if not Nitish Kumar?

That question puts the horse before the cart. First you need to come up with a credible narrative. First you need to state that there can and should be perhaps an alternative vision of India and spell it out and see how it reinforces itself by the reactions of the people of India from all regions and all classes. If you can provide that narrative, then the question of leadership will resolve itself, with a mature approach to finding the right candidate. But if you look for the leader first, without the right narrative, it’s like building the second floor of a building without digging up a foundation.

With two years to go for the General Election, isn’t the opposition losing time?

Nitish Is Not Leaving the Bihar Alliance: Pavan Varma to The Quint
(Graphics: The Quint/Harsh Sahani)

Now, naturally, time is short. There is an urgency because in two years we have an election, which only stresses the fact that if the opposition needs to do this, the means to do it is not a momentary unity on the basis of a reactive choice for the President of India, but far more important work on building another manifesto, another idea for the Republic of India.

But isn’t Nitish’s decision to go against the alliance candidate undermining the very unity that he says the opposition needs to build?

The process is important. But towards what? You will recall Mr Nitish Kumar said, ‘Let us begin a process so that in 2019 we are in a position to name a candidate who will win in 2022’. The process cannot be ad hoc, casual, or reactive. The process Mr Nitish Kumar is emphasising is, that you must build your resources and your unity and your narrative and your vision, where in 2019, in terms of electoral mathematics, you are in a position to name and appoint a President of India in 2022. Presently, the collegium is so obviously weighted in favour of the BJP/NDA as it was indeed in favour of the UPA.

Nitish Is Not Leaving the Bihar Alliance: Pavan Varma to The Quint
(Graphics: The Quint/Harsh Sahani)

Or it is more important to work towards 2019 where you can indeed, if it is indeed, ‘Bihar ki beti’, make her the President of India in 2022?

What would Nitish stand to gain if he were to break away from the Mahagatbandhan and go back to the NDA fold?

I don’t believe Mr Nitish Kumar has said anywhere that he wishes to break from the grand alliance. The grand alliance was configured with great care and attention to detail in 2015. It has the mandate of the people. I don’t believe Mr Nitish Kumar intends to break it.

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