Oppn’s counter-strike puts Nitish in a spot

Move to name Meira Kumar singles out Bihar CM who broke ranks and backed NDA nominee Kovind

PATNA: The Opposition’s decision to pit Meira Kumar against NDA’s Presidential candidate and former Bihar governor Ram Nath Kovind may have queered the pitch for chief minister Nitish Kumar, who broke away from Opposition ranks and backed Kovind on Wednesday.

(From left) Former prime minister Manmohan Singh, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, DMK leader Kanimozhi, NCP’s Sharad Pawar, RJD supremo Lalu Prasad, senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury and BSP’s Satish Chandra Mishra take part in a meeting of opposition parties called to decide on a joint candidate for the presidential polls in New Delhi on Thursday.Nitish’s choice was hinged on the premise that Kovind is the first governor of Bihar to be chosen for the supreme seat and a Dalit.

By nominating Meira Kumar on RJD chief Lalu Prasad’s insistence, the Opposition has presented a logic which Kumar cannot dismiss: That Meira Kumar, the daughter of the famed Dalit leader Jagjivan Ram, who is as accomplished in governance as Kovind and more so a Bihari, was much more worthy of the CM’s support.

While the Opposition’s move is to test Kumar on his ‘anti-communal, anti-RSS’ politics, Lalu said, “I will personally talk to Nitish and try to get him to see the point. He should reconsider his decision to support Kovind. It will be a historic blunder, if Nitish goes alone”.

JD-U insiders, however, do not see any trouble for the party.

“The name of Meira Kumar never came up in discussions when the Opposition leaders met for M Karunanidhi’s birthday celebrations. Nitish talked to Sitaram Yechury and agreed on Gopal Krishna Gandhi’s name, which the Left floated. Our support for Kovind was clear as he did not turn the Raj Bhawan into a BJP den for anti-state politics. We have no regrets in the choice”, senior JD-U leader KC Tyagi told HT on Thursday.

Party insiders stated that Nitish’s decision should be viewed within the larger landscape of the 2019 general elections

“Nitish’s move is calculated to keep in perspective the Lok Sabha polls in 2019. He does not see the Opposition’s contradictions reconciling easily by that time. It also helps the JD(U) to float on the right size of the larger political mood in the country, which is a positive considering he is not seen as a member of the disjointed Opposition”, said a party insider.

With ally Lalu challenged on several fronts, the possibility of the grand alliance in Bihar continuing till 2020 is already shrouded in doubt.

“Nitish Kumar’s emphasis on mahadalits, which he has assiduously pursued since 2005, was a factor in lending Kovind, a Koli, the JD (U)’s support, ” said a top JD(U leader.

Explaining the likely political thinking behind the backing, the leader said, “In the 2015 Bihar elections, Jitan Ram Manjhi, who emerged as a Dalit voice, was reduced to just one seat as an NDA ally, with the Dalits overwhelmingly voting for JD(U). They are a counter to Lalu and Congress vote base too”.

Nitish’s gambit in taking the lone ranger role is driven by the near irreconcilable contradictions within the UPA and the anti-BJP phalanx, which limits the chances of him emerging as the leader to challenge the NDA in 2019 under the Congress-led UPA.

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