The decision by Bihar’s ruling Janata Dal (United) to support NDA’s presidential pick Ram Nath Kovind has raised many eyebrows. After all, it was at CM Nitish Kumar’s insistence that Congress president Sonia Gandhi took the initiative to try and get all opposition parties onboard to back a presidential candidate against the BJP’s choice. Kumar’s assertion before Sonia also came with a thinking that the presidential election would mark a beginning for structuring together a larger alliance going into the 2019 elections, one that could provide a solid counter to the rising popularity of PM Narendra Modi.
With Nitish having decided to back out, political pundits now see a shrewd politician in CM Nitish Kumar – one who they see getting increasingly closer to the NDA, a coalition he was part of for 17 long years. There has been speculation of Nitish’s hidden allegiance towards the ruling coalition in Delhi of which he was a part till 2014 general elections. The decision to back Kovind’s presidential bid is seen as a setback for the united opposition with reports suggesting that the masterstroke delivered by PM Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah was aimed at just that – splitting the non-NDA opposition.
However, the JD(U), which skipped today’s opposition meet after announcing support to the former Bihar Governor, said that party's decision was an ‘isolated incident’ and that it will not affect opposition's unity in putting up a joint fight against NDA government in 2019 polls. Party spokesperson KC Tyagi also said that ‘there was no question of going back to the NDA’ and it continued to be an integral part of the united opposition.
"The decision to back Kovind's candidature is an isolated incident... we'll never go back to the NDA-fold again," party spokesperson KC Tyagi said.
Tyagi said that Kovind, the ex-Governor of Bihar, had played a positive and non-confrontational role in the functioning of the state government. During his nearly two years' tenure as the Bihar Governor, Kovind handled himself with dignity and poise and Chief Minister Nitish Kumar was quite impressed with the his demeanour and grace which convinced him to back his candidature for the President's post.
The JD(U) leader said that Kumar, who is the JD(U) national president, and CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechuri during the DMK founder M Karunanidhi's 94th birth day celebrations at Chennai on June 4 had discussed the name of former West Bengal Governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi as the opposition's candidate and it would have stayed the course but for the NDA throwing a surprise by announcing Kovind's candidature.
"We are bound to support the former Bihar Governor's presidential bid as he had discharged his duties with grace and poise," Tyagi said, adding that having decided to back Kovind's candidature it did not make sense to attend the meeting of the Opposition parties in Delhi today to decide on the presidential elections.
The JD(U) national spokesperson asked the NDA to refrain from nursing any illusion about his party going back to the ruling alliance at the Centre and charged the Narendra Modi government with failing on all fronts. "Despite backing Kovind's candidature for the President's post, we are of the considered view that the Modi government has failed on all fronts."
Meanwhile, Congress spokesperson Ajoy Kumar said that it would have been better if JD(U) had conveyed its choice at the Thursday meeting.
"Nitish ji took the initiative for the opposition Presidential candidate. It was he who was talking to everybody. Different opposition leaders have their own perspectives. Those are their views. He (Nitish) also supported demonetisation. We should respect it. Had he put his views at the June 22 meeting, it would have been elegant," Ajoy said.
However, he said, the development should not be viewed as a setback for prospects of opposition unity ahead of the 2019 elections.