Chief minister Nitish Kumar in Patna on Monday. Picture by Deepak Kumar
Patna, Sept. 16: Chief minister Nitish Kumar today took a dig at Narendra Modi’s elevation as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate by sympathising with L.K. Advani, the lauh purush (iron man) whose wheels of power had been stopped in Bihar 23 years ago.
“The BJP will not gain from this decision (naming Narendra Modi as PM candidate)...this will be proved by the results of the 2014 elections,” Nitish said at his weekly news conference held after the janata durbar.
Nitish, who parted ways with the BJP — his ally for 16 years — following Modi’s elevation as the party’s campaign committee chief in June, chose instead to empathise with Advani. “The lauh purush (iron man) of the BJP has been left to rust,” the chief minister said. “While their own iron man has been left to rust, they are planning to collect iron from across the country to build a Statue of Unity of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.”
The Statue of Unity is a proposed 182-metre (597 ft) monument of Sardar Patel, India’s first home minister revered by both Advani and Modi, that will be built across the Narmada Dam near Bharuch in Gujarat. The project is estimated to cost over Rs 2,500 crore.
Nitish’s sympathy for Advani underscores how short-lived political rivalries are in India. In October 1990, Advani, then the BJP president, was storming the country with his rath yatra that was to end at a kar seva in Ayodhya, when he was arrested in Samastipur by then Bihar chief minister Lalu Prasad. Nitish was at the time a colleague of Lalu in the undivided Janata Dal and was a minister of state in the government of V.P. Singh.
If Advani was then the rival number one for Nitish and his ilk, the label now rests firmly on the sulking lauh purush’s protégé, Modi. Advani, who has been unhappy with the Gujarat chief minister’s elevation, today appeared to accept the choice of the party but is unwilling to forgive the BJP bosses for sidelining him.
Nitish, who has till date never named Modi in his attacks, took another unnamed swipe at his Gujarat counterpart for his criticism of Bihar minister Bhim Singh’s remark last month that “people join the army to attain martyrdom only”.
The chief minister iterated that the state had shown the way in honouring ex-servicemen. “Bihar was the first state to hire the services of ex-armymen in such a big way. It has employed at least 7,000 ex-armymen in the Special Auxiliary Police and 550 in the home department-run jails,” Nitish said. “Only a few states have done as much for the welfare of armymen as Bihar has.”
Modi, while addressing a rally of ex-servicemen in Rewari (Haryana) yesterday, had reportedly said: “It amounts to crossing all limits of shamelessness when a minister says that the people join the army to attain martyrdom. If one cannot honour armymen, one should not insult them either.”
Nitish also sought to dispel notions of any differences with JD(U) president Sharad Yadav, who has said that the party would not tie up with the Congress. “There is no difference in what Sharadji and I are stating. Right now, we are busy with the party’s organisational meetings. We have not spoken to any other party regarding alliances. We will discuss the alliance issue after the conclusion of our organisational meetings in October if the need arises.”