Four days after he returned to the NDA fold at the head of a new government in Bihar with the BJP, JD(U) leader and Chief Minister Nitish Kumar Monday said Prime Minister Narendra Modi faces “no challenger” in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. He said he had “always been in favour of Opposition unity” but “the Opposition has no idea, only a reactive agenda”.
In his first media interaction after returning as Chief Minister, Kumar said he was sure of the decision he had taken. “I would always say I lead a small party and cannot have big national aspirations.”
Serving the people of state, he said, was also national work because he was being discussed at the national level due to his work in Bihar. He said he did play a key role in national politics by serving as Union Minister of Railways, Agriculture and Surface Transport. He said Bihar does expect special category status now that it has a friendly government at the Centre.
Asked about the 2019 Lok Sabha elections battle, Kumar said: “Modiji ke mukable mein koi nahin hai (Modi has no challenger).”
He said he had told Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi how right he was in tearing an ordinance on corruption. “But he did not say or do anything… I had always been in favour of Opposition unity but made it clear that I could be a partner, not a follower. The Opposition has no idea, only a reactive agenda.”
He said everyone knew how hard he had tried for the merger of the Janata Parivar. He said he always wanted an alliance with the AGP in Assam, and an alliance in UP. He had also promised to work with Hardik Patel in Gujarat. “But things just did not move.”
Rejecting the theory that his return to the NDA had been “scripted”, Kumar came down heavily on the RJD and Lalu Prasad. “Had the RJD explained point-wise on allegations (against the family of Lalu Prasad) to the people, I could have stayed with the Grand Alliance. But there was no way I would have compromised with corruption. That would have meant losing my identity. The change happened too soon. But there was no script, it just happened after the BJP leadership offered to support us.”
He said he knew he would face criticism, especially from the intelligentsia, on his decision to join hands with the BJP. “But I would have faced more criticism if I had supported corruption. Secularism is an idea but it should not be used as a cover for acquiring illegal assets.”
On the discontent within the JD(U) over his decision, especially from MPs Sharad Yadav and Ali Anwar Ansari, Kumar said: “The Election Commission recognises only the Bihar unit of the party. I am also the party national president. Whatever decision is taken by the state executive and endorsed by me holds. As for dissent, people have the right to differ and dissent in a democracy.”
Hitting back at the accusations made by Lalu Prasad and his Tejashwi Yadav, Kumar said: “What kind of arrogance is this? Laluji had said he had to drink poison… Who asked him to declare me the Grand Alliance CM candidate? I had in fact left Delhi and the decision was made in the presence of Lalu Prasad, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Sharad Yadav… Am I poison? Am I poison?”
“Caste-base does not mean anything, mass-base does. Laluji and his men would often talk of obliging me and columnists would call me base-less. Did Lalu Prasad make me MLA? Did he make me MP?… I did not want to say it but when he (Lalu Prasad) became Patna University Students Union president (in 1971), I, as a student leader of the Bihar College of Engineering, had ensured 450 of 500 votes. After Karpoori Thakur’s death, I played a key role in making him an Opposition leader by talking to several non-Yadav leaders,” he said.
The RJD, Kumar said, must not be under any illusion of its caste-base. “Everyone knows what happened in the 2010 Assembly elections when it was reduced to 22 seats and that despite LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan being on his side. Now Paswanji is with us,” he said.
The Centre, he said, should launch another offensive on benami properties and amend the Prevention of Money Laundering Act to give states the power to confiscate such property.
Asked if the government would take action against Lalu Prasad’s family in the assets case, Kumar said it would not be fair to comment on a particular case. “One thing is sure. The government will neither oppress anyone nor defend anyone. If the law takes its course, there will be no interference,” he said.