Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar — said to be jockeying for the position of the Opposition’s Prime Ministerial candidate — issued yet another denial today about his reported ambition. Asked about a buzz that he will be contesting the parliamentary election from Phulpur in 2024, he said “I am shocked. There is no such thing”.
“I want to work for the younger generation and ensure their future. I’m not doing anything for myself,” he said, pointing to his deputy, Tejashwi Yadav.
The Phulpur Parliamentary constituency lies in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh and was once represented by former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
Mr Kumar has been issuing repeated denials about his candidature against Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2024 ever since his party parted company with the BJP.
While he is seen as a Prime Ministerial hopeful, and one likely to have wider acceptance for the top post in north India than Arvind Kejriwal or Mamata Banerjee, the opposition parties have made it clear that they are far from any such understanding.
Leader after leader, from CPM’s Sitaram Yechury to Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao, have said they would cross that bridge when they reach it — after the elections and with majority under their belt.
Mr Kumar, accordingly, has been keeping his cards close to chest, admitting only that his national role is confined to bringing the opposition under a single umbrella to counter the BJP juggernaut in 2024.
Asked about the matter during his recent visit to Delhi, Mr Kumar said, “I am not a claimant, nor do I desire it”.
Still, the perception has persisted, with Mr Kumar’s deft handling of opposition leaders and move to leverage his experience with the BJP.
A day after his break-up with the BJP, he had countered PM Modi’s comment that his government’s action against corruption has brought about “fresh polarization” in politics.
“To save these corrupt people, certain political groups are openly coming out and trying to get organised into a unit,” PM Modi had said, without spelling out the fresh bustle in the opposition.
“Why would anyone protect the corrupt? The way they (the BJP) engineer defections, why don’t they talk about that? We never tolerated the corrupt for so long in Bihar,” Nitish Kumar told reporters. Then citing former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Mr Kumar said, “The way he took care of everybody… In Bihar too I got the chance to work for so many years. People at the Centre can keep talking, I don’t really bother”.
During his visit to Delhi, Mr Kumar had met with most of the opposition leaders, starting with Congress’s Rahul Gandhi and ending with Arvind Kejriwal – the Delhi Chief Minister and Aam Aadmi Party chief who was difficult to bring on board in 2019. He even paid a visit to the headquarters of CPM, remarking that it was once his regular haunt.
On Sunday Nitish Kumar and Tejashwi Yadav will travel to Haryana to participate in a rally which is likely to be attended by several leaders of opposition parties.