Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, whose strong support to demonetisation was viewed by many as a strain in his relationship with his ruling partner Lalu Prasad Yadav’s RJD, has asserted that there is no problem in the ruling grand alliance in the state which also comprises Congress.
"I support demonetisation because I believe it is a good step. A political meaning should not be drawn from it," when asked if his return to the NDA was on the cards.
Speaking at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit, the JD (U) leader maintained his support to the demonetisation exercise, asserting that he will back any attack on corruption irrespective of party affiliations.
Playing down reports that he could be prime ministerial candidate in 2019, he said nobody attains the highest office just by declaring oneself a candidate, and if somebody has to become Prime Minister, it does not matter whether he is a candidate or not.
"Just by having ambition one does not become Prime Minister... My national ambition is to make JD(U) a national party like the original Janata Dal which my party represents now."
He said that there was no serious attempt currently being made to bring together non-BJP parties.
A grand alliance of the opposition parties at the national level is certain to win the elections but no such scene was in sight, he said.
He asserted there is no problem in the ruling grand alliance in Bihar and mocked speculation about his growing proximity with BJP, saying he would not offer denial on all kinds of reports as denial is 50 per cent confirmation.
Kumar's strong support to 'notebandi', which has riled leaders like TMC chief Mamata Banerjee, came at a meeting organised by his party JD(U) and later at HT Leadership Summit even as another top leader of his party Sharad Yadav targeted the Modi government over demonetisation in his presence.
"This 'notebandi' is a positive step which will lead to benefits. It will happen," the JD(U) President said, terming corruption and black money as a "big sin and festering wound" which must be eradicated.
"Severe steps will have to be taken. That is why we offered our support to this (demonetization). It is a positive beginning... Whenever there is an attack on corruption, I will support it," he said.
The JD(U) president also refrained from any criticism on the manner of its implementation causing inconvenience to people, an issue vociferously raised by the opposition and his party colleague Yadav.
Asked about Yadav and other opposition parties raising the issue of people's difficulties, he said, "I don't speak about it because those facing difficulties should be speaking. No such voice is being heard. People are in difficulty but the poor thinks he is facing problem today but a lot of money of the rich is sinking."
Yadav is highlighting these difficulties, Kumar said, adding that there is no problem in that. "We have no difference of opinion."
Kumar, however, added that demonetization alone will not end black money and asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to also launch a crackdown on benami properties immediately and target tainted money hoarded in assets like gold and diamonds. Now is the right time to do so, he said.
"Currency forms a significant part of black money but total black money is much more than that. The country's money has been laundered to overseas as well and that too should be brought back," he said.
Kumar's remarks in support of demonetization, which has united most of the opposition parties against it, came after Yadav hit out at Modi dispensation over the issue.
Yadav alleged the decision is aimed at recapitalising banks that were "sinking" due to Rs 8.5 lakh crore of Non- Performing Assets and its goal is not to target black money.
Kumar, however, did not touch upon the implementation part of demonetization, merely saying that his government does everything with due preparation and so should the Centre.
"We support demonetization. It should be implemented with preparation. We do our work with full preparation. They (Centre) should also have done that.
"We said there can be nothing better if it helps curb corruption, bring out some amount of black money and illegal work is stopped to some extent," he said.
Taking a dig at West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, one of the most vocal critics of demonetization who had attacked him at a public meeting in Patna, Nitish Kumar said too much aggression affects perception which is important in democracy. "People will ask why somebody is so aggressive."
"I support something which I agree with and oppose which I do not... Media does not look at things in a simple and normal way and does things for publicity," he said, referring to political speculation over his support to demonetisation.
He also batted for nation-wide prohibition, which he has enforced in Bihar, saying a lot of black money is generated by the liquor trade and now is the right time to go after it. At the party meeting organised by its Delhi unit, he asked workers to establish the outfit across the city which has a substantial population of migrants from Bihar. Condition in many parts of Delhi is worse than villages in Bihar, he said.
His party had supported AAP in the last assembly polls. Kumar asked party leaders to raise the issues of prohibition in Delhi and granting the city full statehood.
In an indication that JD(U)'s relationship with Arvind Kejriwal's AAP is no longer as it used to be, Nitish Kumar asked party leaders to start preparing for municipal and subsequent state elections.
"Biharis living in Delhi are not seeking somebody's mercy or begging... They are not burden on Delhi but have carried its burden. You should unite," he said.
He asked the local party unit to take a decision on how many seats they want to contest. "I will support the local leadership," he said.
Many leaders told him that JD(U) should have carried on with the work it had started earlier as they joined other parties. It had not contested the last assembly polls and supported AAP.
He referred to poor living conditions in several parts of Delhi and said the city will come to a halt if Biharis do not work for a day.
Top JD(U) leaders from Bihar and its MPs will take part in city unit's programmes to build the party.
Many party leaders, including Sanjay Jha, a close associate of Kumar and in-charge of Delhi, criticised the governance in the city, referring to recent outbreak of viral diseases when the Chief Minister and other ministers were found absent.
Kejriwal, like Mamata Banerjee, has taken a strident stand against demonetisation.