Minutes after Nitish Kumar resigned last week over corruption charges against Lalu Yadav and his son Tejashwi, PM Narendra Modi had congratulated him for “joining the fight against corruption.”
PATNA: Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who swapped partners last week to ally with the BJP once again in Bihar, today said that no one is strong enough to take on Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2019, when he will seek re-election.
“There is no doubt about his re-election as Prime Minister as there’s no one to challenge him,” Nitish Kumar told reporters at a press conference at which he detailed what led to his decision to resign and dissolve his two-year-old alliance with Lalu Yadav and the Congress. “I will prove all the critics wrong with my work and the performance of the government,” he said in response to criticism over his decision.
Seen as a strong contender to challenge PM Modi as the head of an opposition bloc that is being tested ahead of the national election, Mr Kumar ruled himself out of that race when he dumped his allies and, less than a day later, took oath again, this time setting up a government with the BJP, with which he had split acrimoniously four years ago after a 17-year partnership.
Mr Kumar had ended his party, the Janata Dal United’s alliance, with the BJP over the latter’s decision to project Narendra Modi as its presumptive Prime Minister. Two years later he joined hands with Lalu Yadav, a bitter rival for years and the Congress to prevent PM Modi from leading the BJP to winning Bihar in assembly elections.
Minutes after he resigned last week over corruption charges against Lalu Yadav and his son Tejashwi Yadav, then number 2 in the state government, PM Modi had congratulated him for “joining the fight against corruption.” Nitish Kumar tweeted back, thanking the PM for his support.
It was not the first sign of warmth between the two leaders. Nitish Kumar stood out among opposition leaders in his praise of the Prime Minister’s notes ban aimed at eliminating black money last year and more recently the launch of the Goods and Services Tax or GST. PM Modi had praised Nitish Kumar’s prohibition policy in Bihar.
Talk of a likely political realignment had begun when Nitish Kumar broke ranks with the opposition a few weeks ago to support the government’s nominee for President of India, Ram Nath Kovind. The corruption charges against Lalu Yadav gave Nitish Kumar an exit route, his former partners have said, accusing him of “conspiracy” and “betrayal.”
“I had to put up with a lot,” said Mr Kumar today, recounting how questions were asked on why he was not acting after Lalu Yadav and his family were raided by the CBI earlier this month. “Lalu did not give any clarification on the corruption charges, how could I remain silent,” said Nitish Kumar, asserting again that he has “zero tolerance for corruption.”