Next President of India: Lalu v/s Nitish is getting bigger than Congress v/s BJP
All were murmurs so far but for the very first time one of the alliance partners has come out in open to slam the other for their choice. The July 17 Presidential election is all set to be a showdown between the BJP and the Congress but a parallel tension between Lalu Prasad Yadav and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is increasingly becoming bigger.
Nitish Kumar announced his decision to support NDA candidate Ram Nath Kovind even before the opposition chose a nominee. His alliance partner in Bihar termed it 'a historic blunder'. Nitish has maintained a dignified silence not just over Lalu Prasad's remarks over his choice for President but also on CBI and IT raids on the Yadav clan.
Will Friday's Iftar make a difference?
The alliance partners are set to dine together in an Iftar event on Friday hosted by Lalu Prasad Yadav. "I don't know why Nitish Kumar took this decision. I will tell him that he has made a mistake and appeal to him to rethink his decision to support Kovind," said Lalu Prasad Yadav after the opposition meeting on Thursday. 17 opposition parties have extended support to Meira Kumar while Nitish's JDU was not part of the meeting.
While Lalu maintained that JD(U)'s decision to support NDA candidate Kovind won't affect RJD's alliance with the party, Nitish's move has only widened the rift between the alliance partners. Nitish's appreciation for demonetisation marked the first instance of alliance partners disagreeing on issues. While Lalu continues to attack the BJP unabashedly Nitish has been careful about his comments about the BJP as well as Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Allies don't seem to agree
Nitish Kumar enjoys a clean, corruption-free image while the same cannot be said of his alliance partner in Bihar. From a man who was deemed fit to emerge as a united opposition's counter to Modi wave, Nitish Kumar has gone to praising Modi and his initiatives, much to the disappointment of Lalu Yadav. Nitish Kumar risked everything at stake when he decided on the coalition with RJD. CBI and Income Tax raids on Lalu Yadav's kin has only come as an embarrassment to Nitish Kumar. Bihar Chief Minister's constant camaraderie with his former ally, NDA and distance from key opposition meets have come as an embarrassment to Lalu Yadav as well.
The first time when allegations of benami land deals emerged against Lalu Prasad Yadav's family, he was seen visiting Nitish Kumar to give an explanation. While Nitish Kumar has not defended Lalu he has neither criticised the raids while Lalu continues to call it witch hunt and vendetta politics. Nitish's silence irked Lalu so much at one point in time that he took to Twitter to congratulate Modi on a 'new alliance partner'. As news of a possible crack in the alliance emerged with due credit to his tweet, Lalu posted another tweet to clear the air.
Nitish was missing from the first unofficial opposition parties meet un the garb of a luncheon hosted by Sonia Gandhi. Lalu Yadav was missing from DMK supremo Karunanidhi's birthday gala where Nitish was present along with a host of UPA allies. Yet again, on Thursday, Nitish Kumar gave the opposition parties' meet a miss since JD(U) had already extended support to Kovind.
For Nitish Kumar and his clean image, allegations against Lalu Prasad Yadav's family is becoming a liability. For Lalu Prasad Yadav, who has been accusing the government of using central agencies to target him, Nitish Kumar's support to NDA, especially on the Presidential election front, has come as a disappointment. With the allies disagreeing on multiple fronts, the tug of war around the Presidential election is more between Lalu Prasad Yadav and Nitish Kumar than between the Congress and the BJP.