One unanswered question at the top of everyone’s mind: What was the urgency for Nitish Kumar to convene his party meeting on 21 June and decide to back the NDA presidential candidate Ramnath Kovind?
Why did he jump the gun just a day before Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s meeting with all Opposition leaders?
Sources within the Congress conceded that Sonia had an inkling that Nitish may go astray and desert the ship, i.e. a conglomeration of 17 non-BJP parties.
Hence, she rushed her trusted aide and ace troubleshooter Ghulam Nabi Azad, who played a key role in stitching Grand Alliance in 2015 Bihar Assembly elections, to Patna to assuage the ruffled feathers of Kumar, if any.
Ghulam Nabi met Nitish here at an iftar party, but could not hold a one-to-one parley with him nor could he persuade Nitish to wait for a day till Sonia holds a meet to decide on the candidature of the Opposition’s nominee for the presidential election.
Sources argue that Nitish was in a tearing hurry to extend his support to Kovind as he could not have done so once the name of former Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, daughter of one of the tallest Dalit leaders from Bihar and former Deputy Prime Minister Jagjivan Ram, was announced.
Nitish, who has a personal rapport with former Bihar Lok Sabha MP Meira Kumar, could not have mustered enough courage to refuse his support to her.
The reason being cited is that though Meira is a Dalit, she is married to a Kurmi, Manjul Kumar, a Supreme Court lawyer, who is Nitish’s fellow caste man.
A highly-placed source said:
Had Nitish not decided on 21 June to back the NDA nominee Kovind, it would have put him in a precarious position. He had already made up his mind whom to back. Had he attended Sonia Gandhi’s meeting, he would not have been able to say “no” to Meira.
But the script of this entire drama, sources say, was written and executed by Nitish himself. The source said:
In April, he met Sonia ji and mooted the idea to field a joint Opposition candidate for the presidential elections. During the interaction, the shrewd Nitish also tried to gauge the mood whether he could be the possible face of the non-BJP parties against Modi in the 2019 Lok Sabha election.
“When he was informally told that there could be no compromise on Rahul Gandhi’s name, the JD(U) president developed cold feet on forging a loose conglomeration of all those who were opposed to the BJP in general and Modi in particular,” the source added.
On 26 May, when Sonia convened a luncheon meet of Opposition leaders, Nitish was the first to desert her. Instead, he deputed a lightweight Sharad Yadav (who despite being a former JD(U) chief has no standing of his own) to represent the party.
Much to everyone’s chagrin, a day later, Nitish accepted a lunch invitation hosted by PM Narendra Modi in honour of the Mauritius PM. A former minister who worked under Nitish in his first stint as CM said:
Nitish’s luncheon meeting with his bête noire Modi, although termed a courtesy call, gave ample indication as to how the Bihar CM had been looking for greener pastures. It’s now only a matter of time before he now crosses over the fence and joins NDA.
RJD vice President and ex union minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh said, “Nitish is trying to have the best of both worlds. If he wants to join the NDA, he should go in that direction. But one should not try to play a game of hide and seek and fool the people. He has greatly let down all the Opposition parties. The trust deficit is unlikely to be bridged.”
One of Nitish’s former Cabinet colleagues said:
Nitish was nursing the dream to become the Opposition’s candidate for the PM’s post for the 2019 Lok Sabha election. Now he has shot himself in the foot by trying to drive a hard bargain with the Congress party.
The Congress leader also said, “It was Congress VP Rahul Gandhi who proposed his name for Bihar CM on the eve of the 2015 State Assembly elections, at a time when Lalu and Mulayam were averse to the idea. Now the same whimsical Nitish, for reasons known only to him, has decided to support an NDA candidate.”
He argued how Nitish supported the UPA nominee Pranab Mukherjee in 2012 despite being in the NDA. But in 2013, he snapped ties with the BJP.
The source further said, “Now history will repeat itself when he will back the NDA nominee and eventually pull out of the Grand Alliance.”
The Congress leader, to buttress its point, cited how strong Lalu’s language against Nitish was. After emerging out of Sonia’s meet in New Delhi, the RJD chief had said that lending support to Kovind will be a “historical blunder” by the Bihar CM.
This is the same Lalu, who a couple of years before joining hands with Nitish, had said, “Aisa koi saga nahi jiski Nitish ne dhaga nahi. There is no one whom Nitish has not cheated.”
It seems that the observation of a rustic leader like Lalu is likely to come true again.
(The writer is a Bihar-based journalist)
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