| Chief minister Nitish Kumar and water resources minister Vijay Kumar Choudhary at the public meeting in Bettiah on Wednesday. Picture by Satyendra Narayan Sharma |
Bettiah (West Champaran), Sept. 19: Chief minister Nitish Kumar today announced that his Janata Dal (United) would support any government at the Centre that conceded his six-year-old demand for special category status to the state, making it abundantly clear he had kept his option open on an alliance in the run-up to the next general elections.
“We will support the party/formation that gives us special category status. Special category status is more a matter of our right than a demand,” Nitish said at a public meeting in Bettiah, about 250km west of Patna.
The chief minister was launching his party’s Adhikar Yatra to step up pressure on the Centre on the special status demand. The yatra will culminate in the JD(U)’s Adhikar Rally slated for November 4 at Gandhi Maidan in Patna.
Though the Adhikar Yatra was planned in advance, Nitish’s statement holds significance in the light of Trinamul Congress’s withdrawal of support to the UPA-2 government. The Bihar chief minister appears to have joined the race to specify his party’s condition for support to the Congress-led government at the Centre.
“Mamata Banerjee has withdrawn support to the Centre. Lekin woh log (UPA leaders) bahut jugadu hain…jugar kar ke sarkar 2014 tak chala lenge (But UPA leaders are good at pulling off such tricks… they will try all tricks to run the government till 2014),” he said.
Though Nitish did not speak on the fate of the Bihar alliance, he dropped enough hints to suggest that his relationship with the BJP remained tenuous.
In his over 40-minute address to a large crowd of about 18,000-20,000 people gathered at the Maharaja High School ground here, Nitish did not mention the BJP — his 16-year-old ally — even once. Neither did he mention the NDA. Not a single BJP leader was present at the public meetings, either at Bettiah or at the rally in Motihari later in the day.
“It is our party (JD-U)’s programme,” Nitish kept reminding his cadres and the people throughout his speech.
Sources close to Nitish said the chief minister, who, like Mamata, is opposed to FDI in multi-brand retail, would not be averse to supporting the Manmohan Singh government with his 20 MPs if the Centre agrees to his pet demand for special status. The sources said Nitish was testing the waters for a possible break with the BJP in case Narendra Modi is projected as the prime ministerial candidate of the NDA, a distinct possibility in case the Gujarat chief minister wins the Assembly elections in the western state later this year.
Also, the sources pointed out, Nitish would then be keen to play a larger role in Delhi, for which he would want to have more than the 20 Lok Sabha seats he now commands. Nitish, the sources said, would ideally like to contest all 40 seats in Bihar and hope to win a sizeable chunk of those — he would particularly target the 12 seats now with the BJP.
The chief minister hinted as much in his speech at Bettiah. “I want Gandhi Maidan of Patna to be filled by the people drawn from each and every of the 8,000-plus villages of the state at the JD(U) rally. The central leaders will then get the message that Bihar has 40 Lok Sabha seats without which no government can be formed. They would ignore this number only at their own peril,” he said.
And then came the punchline: “Hame ignore kar ke Dilli par koi sashan nahin kar sakta (No one can rule Delhi by ignoring us).”
RJD chief Lalu Prasad, who is set to embark on his Parivartan Yatra against the Nitish regime from October 3, dubbed the chief minister as a “chameleon who changes colours (girgit ke tarah rang badaltey hai)”. “When we raised the issue of special status for Bihar at the time of bifurcation of the state (in 2000), the same Nitish Kumar, who was a Union minister then, had said the state does not need special status and a special package will do,” Lalu said.