Did Nitish Kumar just put NDA on notice? His comment suggests he's up for grabs

Did Nitish Kumar just put NDA on notice? His comment suggests he's up for grabs

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Patna:  With the UPA government reduced to a minority after Mamata Banerjee's withdrawal, political alignments are shaping and reshaping themselves virtually by the hour. And regional parties are looking at pushing their agendas and demands in the politically uncertain situation. (Poll: Should the government give in to Mamata Banerjee?) Though it is the Congress which is in most pain right now, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led NDA got a bit of kick in the shins as well.

It came from Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, who said that his party, the Janata Dal (United) was willing to support whoever gave the state special status. "Whoever supports special status for Bihar, we will support them at the Centre," Mr Kumar said.

His party, which is in alliance with the BJP in Bihar, has 22 MPs in Parliament, three more than the exiting Trinamool Congress. He said that Bihar, which has 40 Lok Sabha seats, will play a lead role in deciding who comes to power next.

And if Mr Kumar indicated his party was available, the Congress suggested it was available. "Several states including UP, Bihar need special packages, so we will have to discuss," Congress General Secretary Digvijaya Singh told NDTV. He also said that Mr Kumar had "proved" his secular credentials several times, while pointing out that he was the Railway Minister during the Godhra riots in 2002.

But JD(U) chief Sharad Yadav, who is also the NDA convener, made light of Mr Kumar's remark. "I speak to Nitish Kumar three times a day... He is usually three-four places ahead of me so what can I say about what he has said... there is nothing of the sort," he said.

The BJP, which leads the NDA coalition, of which Mr Kumar's JD(U) is a key constituent, downplayed the latter's remark. "You misunderstood what he (Nitish Kumar) was saying. He was taunting the Congress as there was a request for special assistance earlier. There is nothing more to it," said BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar.

Earlier this year, the Centre rejected the 'special status' tag for Bihar which would entitle the state to large loans, major tax concessions, financial packages, infrastructure development, and a concerted effort by the Centre to boost private investment in Bihar. Mr Kumar's administration says that when Bihar was bifurcated in 2000, it lost a significant part of its natural resources to the new state of Jharkhand. In retaliation to the Centre's refusal, Mr Kumar began his Adhikar Yatra (Rights March) from Bettiah in West Champaran district today. It will culminate on November 4 with a rally in Patna, the first since in the state capital in nearly seven years.

Over the last few months, the relationship of the BJP and the JD(U) has been disturbed by the chief minister's remarks against senior BJP leader Narendra Modi. Mr Kumar has said that as the largest party in the ensemble, the BJP has the prerogative of picking the coalition's prime ministerial candidate. However, he has warned that he will exit the group if the BJP makes Mr Modi its nominee. 18% of Bihar is Muslim, and their vote is crucial for Mr Kumar. He has stressed that the NDA's prime ministerial candidate must have secular credentials - a thinly-veiled remark against Mr Modi, whose ambitions to move to the national landscape from Gujarat are hampered by the communal riots in his state in 2002.

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