Patna: Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) on Sunday made it clear that it will not join the Union council of ministers again, but rebuffed speculations of a rift with ally BJP asserting “all is well”.
JD(U) national president Rajiv Ranjan Singh alias Lalan, who addressed a press conference, however, dismissed queries about Kumar’s absence at the NITI Aayog meeting, with the terse remark “you should ask the chief minister”.
While there has been no official word on the reason behind Kumar’s absence, sources close to him said he has excused himself citing post-COVID debility.
The septuagenarian, who had tested positive on July 25, interestingly, attended a couple of functions here during the day. At one of these, organized on the occasion of national handloom day, he even shared the dais with his cabinet colleagues from the BJP — industries minister Syed Shahnawaz Hussain and Deputy CM Tarkishore Prasad.
Lalan, seen as a frontrunner by some for a ministerial berth from the JD(U) after RCP Singh’s resignation, clarified that the party wasn’t willing to have any representative in the Union Council of ministers.
“We had decided in 2019, after the Lok Sabha polls, not to join the government at the Centre. We stick to that stand,” he said.
“The decision not to join the Union government was taken by our leader Nitish Kumar who was then also the party’s national president,” said Lalan. When pointed out that RCP became a minister in 2021, Lalan shot back, “You should ask him (RCP) who was the national president at that time. He did not take anybody in the loop while arriving at the decision”.
The JD(U) leader also sought to make light of the exit from the party of RCP Singh, who resigned from the Union cabinet recently after being denied another Rajya Sabha term. “He may have left the party only yesterday. But for long his body was in the party and soul elsewhere,” Lalan said, without elaborating.
The JD(U) national president, however, advised RCP, his predecessor, to “apply himself to wherever his heart mind and soul lie, without engaging in diatribe against Nitish Kumar”.
“Nitish Kumar is the maalik (lord) of the JD(U). People like RCP or I get elected as national president because of his benediction. But we must remember that we are just caretakers,” said Lalan. RCP Singh, who was perceived to have become too close to BJP for the JD(U)’s comfort, quit the party on Saturday.
Lalan, who is a Lok Sabha member, also said he had no idea of the agenda of a meeting of the party’s lawmakers called by the CM, saying, “I am coming here straight from the airport.” There has been no official word on the meeting, though party sources said MLAs and MPs were likely to interact with Kumar, the JD(U)’s de facto leader, on Tuesday.
There are rumours that the opposition RJD has commanded its MLAs to remain in Patna for “the next few days” triggering speculations in a section of the media here that the state was set to witness a momentous political development.
Lalan asserted that the party’s ties with the BJP were not under stress and cited the JD(U)’s support for NDA candidates in the recent elections for President and Vice President as proof. “Our Rajya Sabha MP Basishtha Narayan Singh voted by reaching the polling centre in a wheelchair. There cannot be a stronger demonstration of our commitment to the BJP-led NDA,” said the JD(U) chief.
He, however, defended a statement he made last week blaming a “conspiracy” for the JD(U)’s poor show in the 2020 assembly polls and reacting to BJP’s promise of contesting the next Lok Sabha and Assembly elections under Nitish Kumar’s leadership with a cryptic remark “kal kisne dekha hai” (who has seen tomorrow).
The JD(U) national president said, “How can I say with assurance anything about 2024 or 2025. I cannot say whether I will stay alive tomorrow.”
Asked about the “conspiracy”, he referred to “Chirag model”, an allusion to the then LJP chief’s rebellion, and claimed “the model was again at work, we will reveal more about it at a later stage”.
The JD(U) chief, whose party is the largest ally of the BJP, however, refused to find fault with RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav taking out a march in protest against price rise and unemployment and blaming the situation on Narendra Modi government at the Centre.
“Prices are indeed rising and affecting the common people. If the opposition is taking out a protest, why would we oppose it”, he asked. He refused to comment on allegations of political vendetta that have followed arrest of Bhola Yadav, a close aide of Lalu Prasad, by the CBI in connection with a land for jobs scam.
“I am not a spokesman of the investigating agencies. I cannot comment on merits or demerits of the cases,” was the curt reply of the JD(U) chief.