Exclusive: Some parties are uncomfortable with the popularity of Nitish Kumar, writes KC Tyagi
The question arises as to whether opposition unity is merely limited to the presidential elections.
At the outset, there is a need to carefully understand the reasons for my recent statement that we enjoyed more amiability during the NDA rule. This statement had in fact been made in the context of the benign and inclusive leadership of the (then) Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
Those days, George Fernandes was the co-ordinator of the NDA and besides him, Nitish Kumar, Sharad Yadav, Ram Vilas Paswan and the late Digvijay Singh, all held important portfolios in the union cabinet. Nitish Kumar, who was a favourite of Atalji, had over time been given responsibility of over half a dozen ministries.
The seat-sharing arrangement we had with the BJP had bestowed on us the recognition and stature of a national party, a status we no longer enjoy.
The Godhra incident and the communally tense atmosphere that it led to, and also the civil unrest in Kandhamal, Odisha, were both wrong and should not have occurred. In private, Atalji had been critical of them. At that time, JD(U) had 140 out of the 243 seats in the Bihar Assembly and 24 of the 40 seats from Bihar in the Lok Sabha.
It is a fact that a stable situation does not prevail today. During the last state Assembly elections, we had intended to join the alliance formed by the Congress and the Samajwadi Party. But this alliance was reluctant to consider allocating even one seat to JD(U). This is in spite of Nitish Kumar having held hugely successful rallies in Purvanchal, each of which had been attended by 20,000 to 30,000 supporters.
In those days, we had several Members of Parliament, MLAs and Ministers with the NDA. It is also true that we did not fit well into the new functional template adopted by the new leadership of the NDA. Issues that had been kept under wraps or in cold storage in the days of Atalji are regrettably now flaunted and pursued openly and loudly.
Notwithstanding the prime minister’s stated objective of ‘sabka saath sabka vikas’, violence and undesirable incidents continue to take place. The number of atrocities committed on religious and linguistic minorities have increased. In the garb of triple talaq, the law commission is drawing up plans to impose a uniform civil code. The state of affairs in Kashmir is worse off today than ever before.
Though the largest opposition party, the role of the Congress on these issues is limited. Post the events in Mandsaur, farmers across the nation were up in agitation with the issue of a minimum support price for agricultural commodities being the focal point for the entire polity of the country.
Yet, for lack of effective leadership amongst the farmers as also due to the disarray amongst the opposition parties, this opportunity has dissipated and has been missed. On the other hand, these issues could have been bunched and brought upon a common platform.
But even a leader of the stature of Ghulam Nabi Azad chose to raise insinuations and motives in regard to Nitish Kumar. Though there were no doubt differences in ideologies and principles we had with the leadership of the BJP in the past, no one had at any time imputed or questioned motives of George saab or Nitish Kumar.
Insofar as the forthcoming presidential elections are concerned, Gopal Krishna Gandhi had been the frontrunner amongst the candidates under consideration by the Opposition parties. Having been governor of West Bengal, he was already well regarded by Mamata Banerjee and was also acceptable to the NCP, JD(U) and the JDS who conveyed their acceptance to his candidature.
On 3 June, when leaders of opposition parties met in Chennai for Shri Karunanidhi’s birthday celebrations, Nitish Kumar had conveyed his acceptance on Gopal Krishna Gandhi’s candidature. It appears that this name perhaps did not meet acceptance in a segment of the Congress leadership, which led to lack of unanimity amongst the opposition parties with no consensus being arrived on any one single name.
Significantly, at no stage during these deliberations was Meira Kumar’s name being discussed as a prospective candidate.
It is equally correct that even the BJP had not sought consensus of the opposition prior to the announcement of the name of Shri Ram Nath Kovind for president, which only goes to show that the leading national parties choose to use the Dalit card to pursue their own respective political agenda.
It is in the backdrop of such a political scenario that the BJP announced the name of the Bihar Governor Ram Nath Kovind as their candidate for the presidential elections.
After the ignominious tenure of Buta Singh, Shri Ram Nath Kovind’s tenure as governor was one which saw the sanctity of democratic principles being restored and upheld. Unlike in some other Raj Bhavans such as in UP, where it became a venue for politics, the one at Patna maintained a correct and cordial relationship between the governor and chief minister.
BJP announcing the name of Ram Nath Kovind was a matter of serious concern for Nitish Kumar, who discussed the matter with Sonia Gandhi, Lalu Prasad Yadav and Sitaram Yechury, though he also conveyed that it would not be possible for him to oppose his candidature.
The top leadership of the JD(U), including Sharad Yadav, were present for the party’s deliberations and it was agreed unanimously to support Shri Kovind’s name.
We, however, made it amply clear that this decision needs to be taken as an ‘isolated incident’ or a ‘one-time affair’ which did not intend to fracture opposition unity.
Accusations against Nitish Kumar
Allegations have been raised against Nitish Kumar, accusing him of straying from avowed principles. These reached a high point with Ghulam Nabi Azad’s insinuation of Nitish Kumar indulging in political opportunism.
The question arises as to whether opposition unity is merely limited to the presidential elections. Are there no political issues that would come to be raised thereafter necessitating the opposition to unite?
We were taken aback by the response of the opposition parties towards our decision, in spite of our unambiguous emphasis on the fact that the Mahagathbandhan in Bihar would remain intact for the full term of five years and that it would continue to work for the interests of the people of the State.
Yet, a historic opportunity has clearly been lost. Had Gopal Krishna Gandhi’s name been brought up earlier, not only would the JD(U) have been standing apart today but the Shiv Sena and the BJD would have also lent support to Gopal Krishna Gandhi, an upholder of democratic principles and someone who may have gone on to become the President of India.
Nitish Kumar is emerging as the focal point for an alternate national leadership for 2019. A smear campaign against him was carried out when he lent support to the demonetisation scheme and to the surgical strikes conducted by the Indian Army.
Now, which patriot would not stand in support of the soldiers of our army and applaud their bravery and gallantry? Would not the achievements of our soldiers then become an issue of public debate? Regretfully, in spite of our emphatic statements to the contrary, some of our friendly political parties continue to see an illusion of our party being part of the NDA.
The author is a former member of the Rajya Sabha and is principal general secretary of the Janata Dal (United).
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