Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar’s announcement that he is going with the NDA choice of presidential candidate—Ram Nath Kovind—is a big blow to the Opposition which was all set to project a joint candidate at Thursday’s conclave of the opposition parties in New Delhi. It is also in a sense a slap on the face of Congress president Sonia Gandhi on whose initiative the unity of opposition forces was being forged with the presidential election in focus.
With many others like Naveen Patnaik, Mayawati and Mulayam Singh Yadav having broken ranks and the Shiv Sena which was flexing its muscles having decided to support Kovind, the Janata Dal (U)’s support will catapult the BJP-led NDA to an unassailable position. The Congress had hoped to draw Nitish away from the BJP by floating the name of former Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar as a possible Opposition nominee against Kovind, considering that she is a backward like Kovind and belongs to Bihar, but Nitish’s mind was already made. Nitish cites the fact that he is close to Kovind since the time the latter took over as Governor of Bihar.
It would be foolhardy to accept Nitish’s claim of affinity for Kovind at face value. Even before Kovind’s candidature was announced by the BJP, Nitish had stayed away from a meeting called by Sonia to deliberate on the presidential election. It is hardly a secret that Nitish has been weighing his options of continuing or not with the ‘Mahagathbandhan’ with RJD’s Lalu Prasad Yadav and the Congress at the state level.
His acceptance of Prime Minister Modi’s invitation to join him for dinner with the Mauritius prime minister a couple of months ago had raised many eyebrows. Modi had also praised Nitish Kumar for enacting total prohibition law in Bihar when he was in Patna for the 350th birth anniversary celebrations of Guru Gobind Singh. As for Lalu Yadav, Nitish has consistently refused to comment on the cases slapped on Lalu for benami land deals.
He realises that Lalu and his family’s alleged corrupt deals would be a liability for him in future elections. Yet, all said and done, Nitish holds out no guarantees of forging electoral links with the BJP.