As RJD Backed Nitish Kumar As Next PM, Congress Couldn’t Hide Its Dilemma
Patna: As soon as Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar called upon all the national parties to unite against BJP and RSS to form a non-sangh government, RJD supremo Lalu Prasad Yadav came out all guns blazing; supporting Kumar as the next Prime Minister of the country.
The sudden change of guard by Lalu Yadav seems to have stumped the Congress, which is the part of the grand alliance. Speculation about Nitish becoming a PM candidate was fuelled with him taking over as national president of the JDU and starting the process of merger with smaller parties like the RLD in UP and the JVM in Jharkhand to broaden its support base.
Nitish’s statement that he will take his prohibition drive nationwide has only served to strengthen the buzz that he is projecting himself as Prime Minister material, despite his denials. The BJP, sensing a crack in the Grand Alliance over the issue, has taunted Nitish that he should shift to Delhi and make one of Lalu’s sons the chief minister of Bihar.
On Wednesday, Lalu threw some more fat into the fire by declaring that his party would back Nitish as PM. “Every party wants its leader as PM,” remarked Bihar Congress chief Ashok Kumar Choudhary. “JDU will say the name of Nitish Kumar, RJD will say Lalu ji. The other regional parties will also take their leader’s name. I am a Congressman. I will say Rahul Gandhi.”
He, however, lauded Nitish’s clean image. The Congress has four ministers in Nitish’s cabinet, and Congress leaders are both surprised and upset over Nitish being propped up as a PM candidate.
“Since we are a part of the government and the alliance, it is difficult for the Bihar Congress to be aggressive on the issue,” conceded a senior Congress leader on condition of anonymity. “But our central leaders have made the party’s stand clear. Senior party leader and spokesperson Shakeel Ahmad has already declared that accepting the leadership of any other person (apart from Rahul Gandhi) at the national level was not acceptable.”
He added: “Even if Nitish Kumar has PM ambitions it is premature to project himself as one. There is still a long way to go before the 2019 polls.”
The JDU and RJD should have avoided raising this issue, the Congress leader insisted. Asked who would be a better PM candidate between Nitish Kumar and Rahul Gandhi, Lalu’s son Tejaswi sidestepped the question, saying: “It is for the people to decide.”
He, however, said that Nitish was PM material. The JDU on the other hand is all smiles. JDU minister Lallan Singh on Wednesday thanked Lalu for endorsing Nitish and said: “Lalu ji has enhanced the reputation of Biharis.” Another RJD minister Abdul Gafoor also “thanked” Lalu and said Nitish was a worthy PM candidate.
“The situation is amusing,” remarked a former Congress minister. “Right now no other leader is even thinking of being a PM candidate, but here the RJD and JDU leaders are congratulating themselves. The Congress will be a much larger party than any of the regional parties. If there is no political compulsion like in the case of Deve Gowda and IK Gujral when we supported them to keep the BJP out, the Congress will lead in the formation of the government if Narendra Modi loses power.”
Now that Lalu Yadav has openly revealed his loyalty towards Nitish, it would be interesting to see how Congress takes up the issue. With so many other Prime Ministerial aspirants like, Mulayam, Kejriwal, Mayawati and more dying to get into the fray, INC wouldn't find it easy to keep Rahul ahead of other counterparts unless it improves its tally in the next general election.