Virtually giving up his national ambitions, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on Monday said no one can take on Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and hailed the way he takes decisions which he felt would take the country forward.
At a 75-minute press conference, he defended his decision to tie up with the BJP ditching the RJD and the Congress and said his party will remain committed to the support already extended to opposition Vice President candidate Gopalkrishna Gandhi.
“I don’t think anyone is suitable for that. There is nobody who has the capacity to take on Modi,” Nitish Kumar said in reply to a question about the next general elections in which he has been speculated as a possible Prime Ministerial candidate.
With senior leader Sharad Yadav expressing unhappiness about the JD-U tying up with BJP, Nitish Kumar claimed the party was united. He dismissed as hypothetical questions about the JD-U joining the union cabinet.
He was critical of Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi’s remarks that he knew three months ago that the JD-U would tie up with the BJP in Bihar and asked if that was so then why didn’t he stop it.
“If he knew it then he should have told me. When I decided to support (NDA Presidential candidate Ram Nath) Kovind I told them. I spoke to Rahul over the corruption charges against RJD leaders and asked him to suggest ways to come out of that so that I can speak outside.”
He was reminded about his 2013 statement that the BJP had strayed from the ideals of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani.
He said he was already performing a national role in politics by being the Bihar Chief Minister and had done national duty during the V.P. Singh and Vajpayee governments.
“The decision I took (last week) was in the interest of Bihar against corruption. I hope the central government will go ahead with its action in eliminating benami properties like it took in the case of demonetisation and ending black money. Add to this is the GST reform that will transform trade and make it tough for black money to be generated out of business,” he said.
He said the JD-U would support Gopalkrishna Gandhi. “I had informed the top leadership of the BJP about it… They have no objection.”
He said the Congress was not amenable to suggestions by him on issues like during the Assam and Uttar Pradesh elections.
“Congress is the biggest (opposition) party and Rahul Gandhi should set an agenda. Even in the book release function of former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram I had said that the opposition should not be reactive but pro-active and Rahul Gandhi should set the agenda.
“But whatever I suggested you don’t follow that,” he said, adding the Congress did not want him to play any role in national politics. “I can be an ally but I cannot be a follower.”
He said he liked Rahul Gandhi’s action of tearing up the ordinance undoing the Supreme Court judgement barring convicted politicians from contesting elections.
He said the decision to again ally with the BJP was not pre-planned but spontaneous.
He said the developments surrounding Lalu Yadav and his kin including Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav relating to disproportionate assets had raised questions about his own stand of “zero tolerance” against corruption.
He said he met his party legislators on July 11 and said the party should not deviate from its policies and decided to request Tejashwi Yadav to explain the corruption charges levelled against him.
“But what was the answer? He (Tejashwi) said ‘What can I say’? He asked me to help him on how he can go public with the explanation. But I told him that I have no idea of shell companies and benami properties,” he said.
“I told them to say factual things that would benefit the Grand Alliance but there was arrogance from the other side. They were not ready to give any explanation.”
On July 26, he said his party authorised him to take a decision as he made it clear he was unable to work in such a situation. Then after writing the resignation letter, he called up RJD chief Lalu Prasad and Congress leader C.P. Joshi.
“After that only I got the offer from the top leadership of the BJP to form a government in the state in which they said that they will also participate,” he said.
This was endorsed by the JD-U legislature party after which there was a joint meeting of legislators of both the parties. Then they met the Governor to form a government.
Nitish Kumar said he did not need any certificate over his secular credentials.
“I fully believe in secularism, democracy, social justice and justice for all communities. In the cover of secularism no one has the right to amass huge properties. And secularism cannot be used as a cover up for corruption.”
It was in this context that he supported Modi on surgical strikes, demonetization and elimination of Benami assets.
Referring to the “arrogance” of Lalu Prasad, Nitish Kumar said: “After the formation of Grand Alliance, he said he had drunk the venom.” He asked: “Was I poison?”
“Lalu is only a caste leader, not a mass leader,” he added.