Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar changed his stand on the Centre’s demonetisation drive and gave a call on Friday for a broad-based opposition unity to take on the BJP-led NDA government.
The Janata Dal (United) president was the first non-BJP chief minister to support Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s shock announcement to recall 500- and 1,000-rupee notes last November. His stand fuelled speculation that he was warming up to the BJP, which was his ally in Bihar for about nine years since 2005.
But Kumar showed a different side on Friday. “I am against black money, but do not agree with the way the note ban has been implemented. The move has not achieved the desired goals,” he said at the launch of former finance minister P Chidambaram’s book, Fearless in Opposition.
The shift could signal a major opposition unity, as Kumar along with CPM leader Sitaram Yechury made a strong pitch for a united stand against the Modi government.
“It is time the government came clear on what it has achieved by demonetisation. There is no point diverting attention from the issue,” the Bihar chief minister said, supporting former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s remarks that the notes recall was a “monumental mismanagement”.
“There was nothing wrong in what he said,” Kumar said, glancing at Singh and Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi in the audience. Also, he slammed the BJP for Modi’s “raincoat” jibe at his predecessor.
Kumar’s remarks have emboldened opposition parties, especially the Congress and Trinamool Congress that have been at the forefront of protests against the notes ban.
“92 days on…Quite some time, no?” tweeted Trinamool parliamentarian Derek O’Brien, backing the JD(U) leader.
Keeping with the party’s unrelenting attack, the Congress’s Kapil Sibal called demonetisation the biggest scam in the history of India.
Kumar’s shift is viewed as his strategy for a leadership role against Modi in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
The field looks open at the moment as the Congress has accepted the role of junior partner in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh through pre-poll alliances with the JD(U) and Samajwadi Party (SP). That could pitchfork Kumar as an acceptable leader among the opposition parties.
“There needs to be united opposition and the opposition parties need to continue to be fearless … Why should we fear about anything … We need to continue doing what we are doing,” Kumar said.
He urged Gandhi to attempt a “Bihar-type” alliance among all opposition parties.
For his part, Yechury suggested a common agenda among the Opposition.
Responding to a view that politics was changing towards a more personality driven contour, the CPM leader said India always had multiple personalities.
Pitching his bit, Congress leader Chidambaram the problem started when the BJP vowed to create a “Congress-mukt Bharat (Congress-free India)”.
Besides the book launch, the Bihar chief minister drove down to CPM office for a meeting with Yechury and also met CPI leader D Raja. He told reporters later that such parleys were the “beginning of a churning process in national politics”.
“We support the idea of a total unity among opposition parties. Piecemeal adjustments will not do. The process of opposition unity will gather pace in coming months,” senior JD(U) leader KC Tyagi explained his leader’s nuanced remarks.