New Delhi, July 22: Ahead of attending the dinner hosted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in honour of outgoing President Pranab Mukherjee, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar today had a 20-minute meeting with Rahul Gandhi at the Congress vice-president's Tughlaq Lane bungalow, then reached President-elect Ram Nath Kovind's Akbar Road house to greet him before driving to JDU veteran Sharad Yadav's residence where he was closeted for an hour.
The three stopovers ahead of the final meeting with Modi, in the backdrop of the ongoing crisis in the ruling alliance in Bihar, was seen as Nitish's attempt at political symbolism to convey where he was headed, out of compulsion and not choice, if his political positioning with regard to corruption was not heeded to.
Greeting Kovind could have appeared to be a mere courtesy, but JDU leaders stressed on its importance by pointing out how Nitish had broken ranks with the Opposition to back the BJP nominee.
Sources said that during his short meeting with Rahul, the chief minister discussed both Bihar and national politics. He reiterated his "zero tolerance" position on corruption in the context of the charges against his deputy chief minister and RJD boss Lalu Prasad's son Tejashwi Yadav and told the Congress leader that he cannot compromise, sources said.
The meeting is significant since the JDU is learnt to have asked the Congress, a partner in the ruling Grand Alliance in Bihar, to mediate by taking a firm stand on corruption. Rahul is learnt to have listened to Nitish patiently.
JDU sources said Nitish also reminded Rahul how he had torn a 2013 ordinance of the UPA government aimed to negate the Supreme Court verdict barring convicted lawmakers from contesting elections. The ordinance then was believed to have been pushed by Lalu, an UPA member.
Rahul had torn the ordinance at a news conference and termed it "complete nonsense" and said what "our government has done is wrong".
However, that Nitish raised the ordinance at today's meeting could not be confirmed from the Congress's side.
By recalling the Ordinance issue, Nitish tried to tell Rahul that now they cannot be taking a contrary stand and support acts of "blatant corruption" by Lalu and his family members, JDU sources said. Nitish, the sources added, also used the meeting to remind the Congress vice-president about efforts of his party leaders to defend Lalu and his son's corruption and wondered how they could do so.
On national politics, Nitish, sources said, told Rahul that the Congress cannot fight Modi with secularism alone while sweeping aside corruption. He also discussed Gujarat politics and is said to have assured Rahul that he had decided not to be a part of the Sharad Pawar-led NCP's plan to float a third front along with rebel leader Shankersinh Vaghela that would harm Congress interests in the upcoming Assembly polls.
"Nitishji made his position clear... now it is for Rahul Gandhi to take a call," a JDU leader said. In political circles, Nitish's meeting with Rahul is being seen as an effort by the Bihar leader to egg on the Congress to give preference to him over Lalu if it wanted to take on Modi in 2019.