Cracks in Opposition deepen as Nitish Kumar takes aim at Congress

The statement came a day after Kumar criticised the Congress and held it responsible for the mess in the Opposition.

New Delhi/Patna: The rift in the Opposition deepened on Monday with Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar squarely laying the blame on the Congress for “breaking Opposition unity”. He accused the Congress of being merely “reactive”, and not having a substantial and robust agenda of its own to counter the BJP.

“Just talking of unity among Opposition parties is not enough. There must be a narrative — not just in reaction to what the BJP offers, but an alternative narrative,” the chief minister said.

As “a big” party, the Congress needs to take the lead in setting an “alternative narrative” for the next general election, he added.

The statement came a day after Mr Kumar criticised the Congress and held it responsible for the mess in the Opposition.

The Congress made light of all implications and impact of Mr Kumar’s statement.

Maintaining that the Bihar chief minister was only speaking about presidential polls, the Congress dismissed murmurs of Mr Kumar and JD(U)’s exit from the 17-party Opposition grouping and added that there was no threat to the alliance in Bihar. All “naysayers” will be proven wrong, the party maintained.

“It is a minor static on a closed issue (presidential polls),” Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi said in Delhi.

Directly addressing the Congress at a press conference in Patna, the Bihar chief minister urged it to take the lead in setting an alternative narrative and agenda against the BJP for 2019 general elections.

“Apart from talking about unity, the Opposition parties should also have a common agenda to be an effective Opposition. It is not for one leader or party to come up with an agenda. This has to be done together. Simply talking about unity is not going to be effective,” he said.

While maintaining that all was well in the Mahagathbandhan — Bihar’s Grand Alliance of JD(U), the RJD and the Congress led by him — he declared that he was not in the race to become Prime Minister.

Describing JD(U) as “a small party”, Mr Kumar told the media, “Hamari party choti hai aur hum PM pad ke race mein katai shamil nahi hai (My party is a regional party and I am not at all in the race for the post of PM).”

At the national level, the JD(U) and the Congress have tried to work out a common understanding but differences emerged over various issues, including surgical strike, demonetisation and the presidential election which have created a divide among the alliance partners in Bihar.

In Bihar’s alliance government, RJD is the single largest party with 80 seats in the Assembly, and the Congress is the junior-most partner.

Some have put down Mr Kumar’s statements as posturing to show that he is still the Bihar chief minister and JD(U) chief, and nobody should speak against him.

After Mr Kumar announced his decision to back NDA presidential candidate Ram Nath Kovind, senior Congress leader and party’s Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Ghulam Nabi Azad, had talked of “ideological and political opportunism”.

“People who have one principle make one decision, but those who believe in many principles make different decisions,” Mr Azad had said, without taking Mr Kumar’s name.

JD(U) sources say that Mr Kumar has taken strong umbrage at the comment and wanted to make his displeasure clear.

Mr Kumar had created a stir with his decision to support Mr Kovind for the President’s post. His change of stance — given that he had introduced the idea of the Opposition uniting to name its own candidate — came as a shock to the Opposition.

He also refused to back former Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar once her candidature was announced by the Opposition — a decision Lalu Prasad Yadav called a “historic blunder”.

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