Spat with Nitish a 'closed chapter', says Cong. But do workers want a split?
After strongly criticising Bihar Chief Minister and JD(U) president Nitish Kumar for backing the NDA's presidential candidate Ram Nath Kovind, the Congress is now trying to downplay the issue by calling it a 'closed chapter'.
Relentless attacks by Nitish on the Congress and its leadership in the last few days have forced the grand old party on the back foot. It clearly seems to be in damage control mode.
“This kind of questioning arose actually in the original context of the Presidential elections. That is now a closed chapter. It is over as far as choice of candidate is concerned. The Congress president had very categorically said a few days ago that in the end, these are decision taken entirely by any individual party, and that decision is of that party alone,” said Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi.
The Congress's response was aimed at the stinging attacks from Nitish, who on Monday, accused it of pursuing a reactive agenda rather than presenting an alternative narrative against the Narendra Modi government. According to Nitish, the Opposition lacks an agenda, and the Congress should lead it and offer a narrative that is not reactive.
Accusing the Congress of stressing too much on the Presidential elections, Nitish added that pressing issues like the plight of farmers and increasing incidents of beef-related lynchings were being ignored.
Earlier, on Sunday, Kumar had attacked the Congress and blamed it for the mess in the Opposition camp. He accused the party of not letting alliances fructify in UP and Assam, and of not taking other parties in confidence on the Presidential elections.
“I do not follow others, I follow my own policies,” the CM told party workers during the state executive meeting of the JD(U). This, yet again, was directed at the Congress, which wanted him to act in accordance with what it thought was right.
Why should Cong dictate?
According to JD(U) insiders, Nitish is well aware that the BJP has the numbers to elect its candidate as the next President, and didn't want to ruin his cordial relationship with Kovind, who has served as Bihar Governor.
“Why should we do what Congress wants us to do? Will Congress do what we want it to? Every party has its compulsions, and we have time and again stressed that we are with the Opposition in their fight against the BJP. What else do they want?” said a JD(U) leader.
In fact, tensions between the two parties had reached a tipping point, and had put serious question marks over the survival of the Grand Alliance in Bihar. While the Bihar CM categorically stated that the alliance stands strong, the possibility of him joining forces with the BJP has been gaining momentum ever since he backed Kovind.
However, the Congress was quick to assess the situation and play down the confrontation, claiming that it was the prerogative of each party to back whomsoever it wanted to. “There is complete autonomy in such decision making, unless parties choose to agree with each other. So, whatever had to happen has happened. It has absolutely no effect on our relationship as far as JD(U), Congress and other parties are concerned in Bihar,” Singhvi claimed.
Nitish, too, has, on multiple occasions, reiterated his commitment to the Grand Alliance. Even on Sunday and later on Monday, he maintained there was no threat to the alliance, which, according to him, will 'continue till the last day'.
Accusing certain “political quarters” of exaggerating differences between the two parties, the Congress spokesperson said these issues were a consequence of differences over the Presidential elections. “Prior to the Presidential elections, we have had a very successful administration without any statements. These statements have not affected our Bihar arrangement in any manner. Each party is entitled to have its stand on some issues; there are no differences or misgivings on this account,” Singhvi said.
Workers want a split
Amid rumors of Opposition parties zeroing in on Nitish to be the Opposition's face to stop the Modi juggernaut in 2019, the Bihar Chief Minister ruled out any such possibility. He claimed that he had no aspirations of being the Prime Minister.
But, on the other hand, Congress leaders in Bihar are miffed with Nitish's digs at the party, which according to them, are doing more harm than good. “We are being looked at as a weak party. People in Bihar are laughing at us, that despite being the second largest party in Parliament, we are being bullied by the Chief Minister,” said a senior leader from the state.
According to him, ordinary workers want to get out of the coalition and sit in Opposition, and corner the Bihar government over its failures. They believe it will help the Congress's revival in the state, or else, “we won't be able to win even seven seats in the next Assembly elections”.
“The problem is some of our senior leaders are more loyal to Nitish than to their own party. We are being humiliated everyday, and if he continues to attack us like this, we have to react. But, the problem is that our senior leaders, who are also ministers, are more loyal to the Chief Minister than the party,” the leader alleged.