Opposition unity in jeopardy? Nitish skips Sonia’s meet ahead of Prez poll
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Opposition unity in jeopardy? Nitish skips Sonia’s meet ahead of Prez poll

While the JD(U) rejected suggestions that the Bihar chief minister was deliberately keeping away, the BJP said sending Sharad Yadav instead made no sense because he holds ‘no clout’ in his party.

india Updated: May 26, 2017 00:02 IST
Vijay Swaroop
Vijay Swaroop
Hindustan Times, Patna
Nitish Kumar,Opposition unity,Presidential polls
Congress president Sonia Gandhi with Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar at a meeting. (HT File)

Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar’s decision to skip a meeting convened by Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Friday has raised questions over Opposition unity ahead of the presidential elections.

“Nitish Kumarji will not attend the meeting chaired by Sonia Gandhiji due to prior engagements. Our senior leader, Sharad Yadav, will represent the party instead,” JD(U) national spokesperson KC Tyagi said.

The meeting was called to reach a consensus on the Opposition candidate for the presidential election, expected to be held before July 25.

Kumar, incidentally, was one of the first Opposition leaders to meet the Congress president on the issue of fielding a joint candidate for the President’s post.

Tyagi dismissed suggestions of disunity among non-NDA parties. “Nothing should be read into Nitish Kumar’s decision. We are the pioneers of this unity move. The JD(U) is being represented by Sharad Yadav, so where is the problem?” he asked.

The spokesperson pointed out that Kumar was one of the first leaders to talk about forming a grand alliance among Opposition parties, and he had sought a similar arrangement for the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections. “He is mooting the same for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls too,” Tyagi said.

Insisting that Kumar’s absence from the meeting should not be read as a setback to the Opposition’s efforts at uniting, he said all non-NDA leaders – including the Bihar chief minister and RJD chief Lalu Prasad – will assemble in Chennai for the birthday celebrations of DMK chief M Karunanidhi. “This will be the first big meeting of leaders in the south since 1988,” Tyagi said.

Kumar had earlier met Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik, DMK MP Kanimozhi and Left leaders in this regard.

Party insiders feel that the primary reason for Kumar’s likely absence from the meet could be the presence of Lalu Prasad, with whom the JD(U) is sharing an “uneasy alliance” in Bihar. Recent exposes on Prasad’s corruption cases may also be another deterrent. “This is the reason why the JD(U) is yet to make a clear stand on participating in Lalu’s proposed rally in Patna in August. Let us wait and see what happens by then,” said a party leader.

Moreover, Prasad is averse to Kumar’s idea of propping Pranab Mukherjee as President for a second term.

Some believe the Bihar chief minister may be staying away from the meeting in view of questions being raised over his pullout from the Uttar Pradesh poll scene and the JD(U)’s dismal performance in the Delhi civic polls. He has also faced criticism over his prime ministerial ambitions.

A senior JD(U) leader said Kumar is aware that bringing warring parties such as Trinamool Congress-Left and BSP-SP onto one platform would be a herculean task.

BJP leaders in Patna termed Yadav’s deputation for the meeting as an eyewash because he holds no clout in the party. “This is the JD(U)’s internal matter. The chief minister might be busy. But Nitish’s non-participation shows that the whole exercise of Opposition unity is superficial,” said senior BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi.

First Published: May 25, 2017 21:20 IST