Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar on Monday said the flutter around a 10-year-old video showing him praising Gujarat chief minister and BJP strongman Narendra Modi as a potential national leader was mere “hullabaloo”.
He said the video of his speech made in Kutch in December 2003 when he was the railway minister was being wrongly projected as a political speech.
“It is an accepted norm to praise a host government at such an official function. As Union minister, are we supposed to make political speeches at an official function?”
While inaugurating a railway project at Adipur in Kutch, Kumar had reportedly said, “I hope Narendra Modi won’t be confined to Gujarat for long and the nation will get his services.”
CDs of the speech surfaced on Sunday, shortly after Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) severed ties with the Bharatiya Janata Party, announced dissolution of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in Bihar and dropped 11 ministers of the saffron party from the state government.
Kumar had to fend queries from the media on his speech in Gujarat after BJP leader and former deputy chief minister in his cabinet, Sushil Kumar Modi, said the CM must explain how he had praised Narendra Modi then, but turned a bitter foe now.
Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar addressing mediapersons at his official residence in Patna. UNI PHOTO
The 10-year-old video in which Nitish praises Modi
Kumar also dismissed criticism that he had treated his mentor, George Fernandes, the same way that Narendra Modi was seen to have steamrollered senior BJP leader LK Advani.
He said nobody could accuse him of such behaviour. "I had offered the ailing socialist icon and founder of the Samata Party a seat in the Rajya Sabha after he was pushed to unsuccessfully contest from the Muzaffarpur seat in 2009.”
Kumar added, “In the JD(U), we are all highly mindful of the respect party elders command. Even today, I keep a tab on the health of Fernandes and pray for his good health.”
In the same vein, he said, "The disregard for elders is a trait more routinely ascribed to the new era of leaders within the BJP, which cannot draw new allies and think they can ignore the old alliance. In Indian culture, we do not show disrespect to elders.”
On whether Advani’s seemingly declining clout in the BJP was a trigger for the JD(U) to pull out of the NDA, Kumar said, "The JD(U) had joined the NDA in 1998 based on understanding with the likes of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who afforded space to all shades of opinion under one umbrella to form a government and run it on a national agenda, not a BJP one.”
Kumar slammed the BJP for calling him “vishwasghaati” (betrayer) and said, "Those who have shown disrespect to their elders such as Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani have no moral right to say so.”
The JD(U) leader said the decision to quit the NDA was not hasty. "It was a timely decision, as it was getting difficult to work with new leaders within the BJP after the end of the Vajpayee and Advani era.”
“We were forced to break the alliance because bickering within the NDA had grown of late, with no attempt being made by the BJP to address issues of allies.”
In an oblique reference to Narendra Modi’s elevation as BJP’s campaign committee chairman for the general elections, he said, “We had made our stand clear on the PM issue long ago, but it was not addressed. The (BJP’s) Goa conclave was the writing on the wall.”
Kumar said those questioning JD(U)’s secular credentials should do some research and brush up their knowledge.
"It was only in 1996 that the Samata Party joined the BJP. We joined the NDA formally in 1998 after mutually agreeing, that contentious issues would not be part of the national agenda of the coalition,” he said, replying to a query on whether he viewed Advani as “secular”, when the BJP leader too was charged in the Babri mosque demolition case.
Asked about the prospects of JD(U)'s alliance with Congress, Kumar said, “Door ki baat hai (it is premature to talk about it).”