Nitish Kumar Meets PM Modi, Day After Skipping Sonia Gandhi's Invite

Nitish Kumar was for years a bitter political rival of the Prime Minister and ended his nearly two-decade-long alliance with the BJP over the latter's ascent in his party. In recent days however he has not quite lived up to the reputation of a being sharp critic of PM Narendra Modi.

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Nitish Kumar was for years a bitter political rival of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

New Delhi: 

Highlights

  1. Nitish Kumar attended lunch hosted by PM Modi for Mauritian PM
  2. Bihar Chief Minister, a Congress ally, skipped Sonia Gandhi's lunch
  3. Move adds to talk that Mr Kumar may be considering political realignment
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who sent regrets and a representative for Congress president Sonia Gandhi's lunch party for opposition leaders on yesterday pleading prior engagements, arrived in Delhi only a day later to lunch with Prime Minister Narendra Modi today. PM Modi hosted lunch in honour of visiting Mauritian Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth and invited senior leaders like Mr Kumar. 

Dismissing any talks of a political realignment, he said after the meet "When a CM meets the PM you all do political analysis. This meeting was in honor of Mauritius PM and it is my duty to meet the PM to highlight problems of the state."

The Bihar chief minister turning down Mrs Gandhi's lunch invitation - designed as a show of opposition unity on the day the Modi government turns 3 - had caused eyebrows to be raised. His yes to PM Modi sparked a massive political buzz. It comes as the Congress is trying to gather opposition parties on a common platform to test the ground for a possible alliance of parties to take on the BJP in the 2019 national election when PM Modi will seek a second term.

Mr Kumar today said the opposition is united when it comes to the presidential election. "We have an alliance with the RJD and the Congress and we are running the government. Had met Sonia Gandhi in April and discussed opposition unity, presidential election," he said.

Nitish Kumar had explained after a cabinet meeting on Friday evening that he sought a separate appointment with the Prime Minister on Saturday to discuss de-siltation of the Ganga river. Leaders of his Janata Dal United said not much must be read into his response to the two lunch invites.

Mr Kumar was for years a bitter political rival of the Prime Minister and ended his nearly two-decade-long alliance with the BJP over the latter's ascent in his party. In recent days however he has not quite lived up to the reputation of a being sharp critic of PM Modi.

When all opposition parties denounced the Prime Minister's demonetisation move last year as a reform that punished the poor, Mr Kumar stood out for his enthusiastic support of the notes ban, agreeing with PM Modi that it would counter black money and corruption.

Last week, he slipped in praise for the PM when he ruled himself out as a Prime Ministerial candidate in 2019. He said he didn't have the "the aspiration or the ability" adding that, "the person in whom people will see potential will become the prime minister. People saw potential in Narendra Modi during the last elections, he has become the PM."

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The Prime Minister has on occasion responded in kind, like when he complimented Mr Kumar's implementation of an alcohol ban in Bihar.

For months now there has been speculation that Mr Kumar could be considering a political realignment with the BJP, though he has assured his allies Lalu Yadav and the Congress that he is not inclined to end their partnership, built to defeat the BJP in assembly elections in the state two years ago.

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