Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday gave his seal of approval to Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar as the face of the NDA ahead of elections in the state, saying Kumar had a “very important role” to play in taking Bihar forward on the path to progress.
Dedicating to the nation three petroleum sector projects in Bihar worth more than Rs 900 crore, PM Modi said, “We must ensure “sushasan” (good governance) in Bihar. The good work done in the last 15 years must continue.” He added that the chief minister has “played a big role in our aim towards a New India, New Bihar”.
Without naming the opposition RJD or its leader LaluPrasad, and the party's ally the Congress, Modi blamed the state's backwardness on a mindset which made them sneer at economic progress and thought lip-service was enough when it came to the betterment of the poor. Bihar has for long been plagued by a peculiar mindset. Road projects were frowned upon and people used to ask what do these have to offer those who walk on foot and do not have vehicles, Modi said in a veiled reference to Prasad.
Such indifference to progress also took its toll onhigher education. But the last 15 years have been of sushasan.Infrastructure has improved. New medical and engineeringcolleges, law institutes and polytechnics have come up. NitishKumar has a very important role to play in ensuring that theprocess continues, he said.
Once considered arch-rivals, Kumar had walked out of the alliance with the BJP in 2013 when Modi, who was then the Chief Minister of Gujarat, was named the Prime Ministerial candidate of the NDA.
The prime minister’s endorsement comes at a time when there have been reports of a rift between NDA allies JD(U) and LJP ahead of elections in Bihar. Sources said a number of LJP leaders were against contesting elections under the leadership of Nitish Kumar as they were upset with his poor handling of the Covid-19 situation, the floods, migrant crisis and employment issues in the state. So far as the JD(U) is concerned, party insiders say the spat with LJP is over seat sharing ahead of the elections.
The source said that Chirag Paswan is eyeing to contest at least 43 seats in the assembly elections but Bihar CM is unwilling to give more than 25-30 seats to the LJP.
The LJP, which fought the 2015 assembly elections with the BJP as the ally partner, contested on 55 seats and managed to win just two seats. The LJP finished runner up in 36 assembly seats and managed to get 4.8 per cent vote share.
However, dismissing rumours, LJP chief Chirag Paswan on Saturday said, "I have no problem with the name of Nitish Kumar as the face of the NDA." "I am okay with any Tom, Dick or Harry chosen by the BJP," NDTV quoted the 37-year-old leader, who has been critical of the Bihar chief minister over management of floods and the COVID-19 pandemic in the state.
Laying down certain conditions for the alliance, Paswan said that the partners need to agree to a common minimum programme which includes his "Bihar First and Bihari First" campaign and said that he was not willing to work on Kumar's 'seven resolves' commitment, announced ahead of the 2015 election. Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan's son, Chirag has in past expressed his ambition for the chief ministership of the state.
LJP sources said any attempt to undermine the party's position in the state will prompt it to go all out against the JD(U). They said the JD(U) has been working to undercut the LJP. They cited the ruling party's decision to join hands with Dalit leader Jitan Ram Manjhi, who has a history of targeting the LJP, a party whose base is primarily among Dalits, as another attempt in this regard.
The BJP, meanwhile, has been maintaining that the ruling National Democratic Alliance is intact in the state and has stuck to Kumar's projection as its chief ministerial face.
The schedule for assembly elections in the state is likely to be announced in the coming days. The Election Commission has indicated that it would like to conclude the exercise before end of term of the present house on November 29.