New Delhi: Less than a week after switching to the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) corner, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar on Monday claimed that no political party was capable of out-competing Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
The comments are significant because Kumar was once the face of the opposition in its bid to forge a pan-India anti-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) front—and hence another setback to an already demoralised opposition.
“No one else is capable... No one has the capability of challenging Narendra Modi now," Kumar told reporters in Patna on Monday when asked about whether Modi would return to the top job after the general election in 2019. This was his first media interaction after he joined hands with the NDA and took oath afresh as chief minister on Thursday.
In a dramatic turn of events, Kumar on Wednesday had walked out of the ‘grand alliance’, resigned as the chief minister only to take oath the next day along with his new ally, the BJP. His government sailed through the trust vote on Friday and a cabinet of 27 ministers—14 from the Janata Dal (United) or JD(U) and 13 from the NDA— took office on Saturday.
While talking about his experience with former chief minister Lalu Prasad-led Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Kumar said, “What does secularism mean? Does secularism mean making property worth thousands of crores?"
Speaking about the ‘grand alliance’, Kumar pointed out that several out of turn comments were made against him. “There were corruption charges and cases were filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (against Lalu Prasad and family). I had only told them to come out with proper answers. Instead they made fun of me saying whether I was a CBI official or the police," he said.
The chief minister also explained that if the RJD leadership had come out with a reasonable explanation, the fate of the alliance could have been different.
“I had tolerated every criticism for the sake of the mahagatbandhan. No one from the JD(U) had said anything against RJD’s supreme leader," he said.
In a bid to pacify his key support base, Kumar on Sunday evening met with nearly 1,200 Muslim supporters of JD(U)’s minority cell. The meeting is significant because Muslims, comprising 16.5% of the state population, play a decisive role in the state’s politics.
However, a section of the JD(U) leadership, specifically former party chief Sharad Yadav, signalled dissent.
“The situation (dissolution of coalition) is very unpleasant to us... It is unfortunate that the coalition has broken," he told reporters outside Parliament on Monday.
BJP president Amit Shah, who is at the end of his three-day Uttar Pradesh visit, told reporters on Monday that Kumar resigned because he did not want to put up with corruption. “In Bihar, we did not break any party. Nitish Kumar had tendered his resignation as he had decided that he will not put up with corruption," he told reporters.
“The opposition should have gone to any length to save this alliance because this was their only hope in the 2019 polls. The real blow in that sense happened when the Congress could not save the alliance. Nitish Kumar’s walking away has damaged the opposition. But I feel in politics anything is possible and 2019 is nearly two years away. If the opposition raises real issues then it still has a chance," said Manisha Priyam, a New Delhi-based political analyst.
Separately, on Monday, the Patna high court dismissed two public interest litigations (PILs)—one by RJD MLAs Saroj Yadav and Chandan Verma and another by Jitendra Kumar, a Samajwadi Party member—challenging the formation of the new government with NDA support.
After hearing all parties, a division bench comprising chief justice Rajendra Menon and justice A.K. Upadhyay dismissed the two PILs saying no intervention of the court is required after a floor test in the state assembly.
Kumar on Friday clarified that the JD(U) will continue to support the candidature of Gopal Krishna Gandhi, the opposition’s vice-presidential candidate.
“The opposition should have gone to any length to save this alliance because this was there only hope in 2019 polls. The real blow in that sense happened when Congress could not save the alliance. Nitish Kumar’s walking away has damaged the opposition. I feel in politics anything is possible and 2019 is nearly two years away. If the opposition raises real issues then it still has a chance," said Manisha Priyam, a New Delhi-based political analyst.
PTI contributed to the story.