Looking to secure as many votes as it can for the presidential and vice-presidential elections, which it is expected to easily win, the BJP has started reaching out to friendly parties. Among the first stops was JD(U) leader and Chief Minister Nitish Kumar in Patna, with Union minister Dharmendra Pradhan calling on him Thursday evening.
The hush-hush meeting was significant, as a placatory gesture towards Nitish at a time when there is talk of growing distance between the JD(U) and BJP – encouraged by both sides – as well as talk that the veteran Bihar leader would be phased out of the state into a Central position, including as vice-president of the country.
“Not even the state unit was informed about Union Minister Pradhan’s almost two-hour meeting with the CM. We have been told it was part of BJP efforts to meet friendly CMs to ensure their support for the presidential and vice-presidential elections,” a source in the Bihar BJP said.
While the NDA is comfortably placed for both the elections, Opposition parties have indicated their intention to put up joint candidates for the two posts. Nitish has supported presidential candidates fielded by rival parties earlier. In 2012, he had supported the Opposition’s Pranab Mukherjee for President, despite being a part of the NDA at the time. In 2017, when he was in the Grand Alliance with the RJD and Congress, he had chosen to support the NDA candidate for President, Ram Nath Kovind, instead of Opposition nominee Meira Kumar.
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Sources said the decision to send Pradhan for a one-to-one discussion with Nitish was taken after consultations between Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah and BJP chief J P Nadda. Sources said another high-level meeting at the Prime Minister’s residence, a week earlier and attended by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, also discussed the presidential elections.
Among others the BJP is reaching out to are the BJD and YSR Congress Party, with sources in the two parties saying they were inclined to vote with the BJP. “The top leadership is expected to send senior ministers to their CMs in the coming days,” a leader said.
The electoral college for the presidential election, to be held in July, consists of the 776 MPs of the Lok Sabha (543) and Rajya Sabha (233), as well as MLAs of state Assemblies and the Union Territories of Delhi and Puducherry. The total votes are counted on the basis of their value, which varies from state to state, with an Uttar Pradesh MLA carrying the highest value followed by Maharashtra and West Bengal.
On Bihar, BJP sources said the central leadership has been unhappy about the reports emerging from the state. “The public statements being made have the potential to damage the NDA coalition’s image and the cohesion of the government. The national leadership does not want state BJP leaders to create an impression that the BJP is desperate to replace Nitish with another face. The leadership is in no mood for changes till the Lok Sabha elections,” a senior party leader said.
He pointed out that Pradhan’s visit came soon after hints from Nitish’s camp that Union minister Bhupendra Yadav was pitching fellow BJP leader Nityanand Rai as possible Bihar CM. “The message from the unannounced meeting (of Pradhan and Nitish) was clear — that the BJP wants the alliance to be smooth and the state unit to accept Nitish’s leadership.”
Recently, Rai, the MP from Ujiyarpur and Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, hosted lunch and dinner parties over three days for BJP leaders, ministers and journalists.
A JD(U) leader also said that the central BJP appears to be trying to quash talk that something was cooking. “Dharmendra Pradhan was carrying a message from Delhi for its ally. The meeting was neither about any Cabinet reshuffle in the Bihar government nor any midway change in the NDA leadership. It was most probably a message from J P Nadda regarding the vice-president and president elections,” the leader said.
A Bihar BJP leader said they were taken by surprise by Pradhan’s visit, and “second- or third-rung leaders went to receive him at the airport after coming to know about it from sources other than BJP leaders”. According to the leader, “There will be no change in the NDA leadership till the 2025 (Bihar) elections.”
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