Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar may have broken ranks with the Opposition to support NDA presidential candidate Ram Nath Kovind, but he will not be among the chief ministers accompanying Kovind when he files his nomination Friday. E K Palaniswami (AIADMK, Tamil Nadu) and K Chandrasekhar Rao (TRS, Telangana) will be among the CMs present at the nomination, expected around noon, sources said. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, chief ministers of states ruled by the BJP and its allies, BJP chief Amit Shah and Union ministers too will be present.
In Patna, the JD(U) defended its decision to back Kovind while the RJD accused it of trying to break Opposition unity. “It was Nitish who had agreed on Gopal Krishna Gandhi as a possible Opposition candidate but things did not move forward,” JD(U) national spokesperson KC Tyagi told The Indian Express. “When the NDA chose Kovind, Nitish reasoned with Sonia Gandhi and Lalu Prasad that Kovind has been non-partisan as Bihar governor and deserves the JD(U)’s backing.”
Asked how the JD(U) could vote against Meira Kumar, a Dalit from Bihar, Tyagi said, “We have all respect for Meira Kumar but let us not make it a battle of Dalit versus Dalit or UP Dalit versus Bihar Dalit.” Tyagi denied suggestions of the JD(U) getting closer to the BJP or any rift with the RJD. RJD national vice president Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, however, said, “Nitish’s decision to back Kovind sends wrong signals about Opposition unity and he is trying to weaken the grand alliance.” Asked if Nitish has jolted the RJD, Singh said: “Nitish Kumar kya desh ke malik hain? Nitish Kumar kya top hain? (Does Nitish own the country? Is he a cannon?)”
The BJP camp, meanwhile, has assessed that it has garnered nearly two-thirds of the electoral pool. “Our candidate will get more than 62 per cent of the votes in the electoral college,” said a senior leader. The NDA has 48% — including 40% for the BJP alone — while 14% comes from AIADMK (5%), BJD (3%), TRS (2%), JD(U) (a little under 2%) besides YRSCP and INLD (2% together). The Congress holds just under 15% and is likely to go up to about 34% with support from its allies besides the TMC, the Left, SP, BSP and smaller parties. AAP, which commands a little under 1%, has not yet announced its choice.
The election is scheduled for July 17 and the votes will be counted on July 20.