Presidential polls: Congress moves to placate JD(U) but strain remains in alliance

In Patna, Nitish described the “grand alliance” in Bihar, including the RJD and Congress, as “unbreakable”. But he also said that on the national stage, the Congress “is the biggest party in Opposition” and “has to take the initiative to set an agenda”.

Written by Manoj C G , Ravish Tiwari , Santosh Singh | New Delhi/patna | Updated: July 4, 2017 5:30 am
Nitish Kumar, Bihar Chief Minister, Presidential polls, india news Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar with Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav in Patna on Monday. PTI

A DAY after Bihar Chief Minister and JD(U) chief Nitish Kumar held the Congress responsible for the “current mess in the Opposition”, both sides struck a conciliatory note Monday, although the underlying strain in their relationship remained. In Delhi, Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said “some parties” wanted to “exacerbate” his party’s differences with the JD(U) and said that the divergence over the presidential elections was “a chapter that is over”.

In Patna, Nitish described the “grand alliance” in Bihar, including the RJD and Congress, as “unbreakable”. But he also said that on the national stage, the Congress “is the biggest party in Opposition” and “has to take the initiative to set an agenda”. On Sunday, at his party’s state executive meet, Nitish had said that “it is because of the Congress that we could not have an alliance in UP, it was because of the Congress that we could not have an alliance in Assam, and the Congress did not take us into confidence during the presidential polls as well”.

Taken aback by the criticism, senior Congress leaders admitted to a “mishandling” of ties with the Bihar Chief Minister after the JD(U) decided to back NDA nominee Ram Nath Kovind in the presidential elections. While stressing that Kumar should have been “careful” since he had taken the lead in fielding a joint Opposition candidate, they said the Congress has decided to reach out to him directly in the next few days to placate him.

However, sources in both parties confirmed that there still were conflicting streams of thought. “The problem is that a strong section of the leadership, which worked with Lalu Prasad during the UPA, is comfortable with the RJD. This old school is pulling things in the other direction. Remember, the old school was averse to Nitish’s projection as the chief ministerial candidate in Bihar and it was the new school of thought that prevailed, which resulted in the election success of 2015,” a senior Congress leader told The Indian Express.

Sources in the JD(U) said a strong section in the party wants to use the NDA option to bargain for a commanding position within the united Opposition. In the Congress, a section is not averse to leveraging Lalu Prasad to rein in JD(U)’s ambitions.

But, in what is seen as an attempt to allay Congress apprehensions, Kumar said, “I have already distanced myself from the PM race.”

Speaking to reporters, the Bihar Chief Minister said, “Alternative politics is the demand of the current time. The Congress, which is the largest party in Opposition, has to take the initiative to set an agenda before the people and tell them how it wants to take the country along. I am not the Opposition candidate for Prime Minister for 2019. My priority is to fulfill my promises made to the people of Bihar. I have got a Bihar mandate.”

However, in a nuanced criticism of the Congress, he said, “At a time when the Opposition should have kept the heat on the farmers’ issue, it got embroiled in politics over the presidential polls. Talking only about unity and forging an alliance at the national level would not serve any purpose, we have to stand united on important and core issues.”

Congress leaders admitted that the party needs to “allow him (Nitish) space”. “Let’s not forget, Nitish is a leader of his own standing. He cannot be a follower. He can be a collaborator. For this, we need to allow him space. We should not forget that when Nitish was in the NDA, he used to speak to the top leadership — A B Vajpayee and L K Advani — and would not join issue with those down the chain. We need to understand this to avoid any mishandling,” said one leader.

Asked about his party leader Ghulam Nabi Azad’s remarks, which has reportedly angered Nitish, the senior leader said, “The old leadership seems to be going about it in the old way, which resulted in the mishandling”.

JD(U) leader K C Tyagi, meanwhile, said that “nobody can dictate terms on what the JD(U) should do”. “Every party has its own ideology, no party can dictate terms to another party,” said Tyagi.

Congress’s Singhvi described the alliance with the JD(U) as “very, very special”. “Whatever happened has happened, it has absolutely no effect on our relationship in Bihar… Kumar himself has said so. Our coalition is strong and stable and everybody stands by each other,” he said.

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  1. D
    Dr steve
    Jul 4, 2017 at 6:16 pm
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    1. Damodar Biswal
      Jul 4, 2017 at 12:06 pm
      The fact is ,Nitish is clean n non corrupt.Congress n RJD can not live without corruption.That is the most important point of difference .
      1. Sarangarajan Narasimhan
        Jul 4, 2017 at 11:11 am
        Having seriously and stupidly b ered by assuming meek servility from others in its so called "United Opposition" exercise, Congress again b ered in letting Ghulam Nabi Azad shoot off his mouth when a dire need for patch up work with Nitish still existed. 'IF' they really want Nitish on board, they HAVE to accept that HE is also a BIG leader, certainly far bigger in Bihar than either Congress or Lalu, who is neck deep in trouble. Congress lets its Mani Shankar Iyers and Azads to blabber, does not bother to retract or refute such loose talk and still expects to be treated as THE BIG BOSS !!! HOW AND WHY should everyone kowtow to Congress, which is at the rock bottom of the Indian political barrel and barely surviving ? They will NEVER learn.
        1. B
          Balbir Singh
          Jul 4, 2017 at 9:39 am
          congress has proved to be a filthy gutter of Sonia, nominating Meira Kumar. Sonio Italiano is playing gamesw with everything in india, including Presidential Poll. WE are waiting for the permanent exit of this gutter womaqn from India.
          1. S
            Jul 4, 2017 at 7:30 am
            Nitish Kumar and Kapil Mishra hve been deployed by RSS to destabilize opposition Alliance before 2019 Elections. RSS used Anna Hazare to defame UPA so that BJP come to power. Since BJP came to power Anna is no longer interested in Upvas and Dharnas because he is very happy that RSS/BJP are in power. Anna will be back to business the time UPA come to power.
            1. vikash kumar
              Jul 4, 2017 at 8:27 am
              i will suggest u share ur real name, before talking nonsense
              1. S
                Jul 4, 2017 at 9:41 am
                Truth hurt so Chaddi gang Bhakts troll cannot take it.
              2. Damodar Biswal
                Jul 4, 2017 at 12:09 pm
                Why don't u talk of scams n corruption during UPA time,sir?Nitish is feeling uncomfortable with the company of corrupt people n wants a way out.
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