- Nitish Kumar backs rival BJP's candidate for President Ally
- Lalu Yadav says "reconsider, it will be historic blunder"
- We had agreed we would likely disagree on national issues: Kumar
Mr Kumar clobbered the opposition's attempt at putting up a united league against the BJP by declaring he will vote with the party for its nominee, Ram Nath Kovind, who was Governor of Bihar till earlier this week.
Both the Congress and Lalu Yadav who govern Bihar with him have made their resentment clear, with the latter tagging Mr Kumar's decision as a "historic blunder." An unimpressed Chief Minister responded witheringly last evening, "We stand warned. We are going ahead."
He also said "The Grand Alliance is restricted to Bihar so its members are free to take their own (differing) stand on national issues." The Chief Minister was in fact quoting a senior Congress leader CP Joshi who offered this remark when the three parties were asked, ahead of the 2015 election that get won, how they would shush their yawning differences on key issues to pull in the same direction.
The Congress and Lalu Yadav worked with the Left to persuade a group of 17 parties including their own to name former Speaker Meira Kumar as their candidate for the Presidential election on July 17. The outcome seems foregone: the BJP and its allies have won the backing of regional parties to garner 63 per cent of the vote. The picture was clear when Mr Kumar strode away from the opposition front that he had helped conceive in April.
As justification, he has said that as Governor of Bihar, Mr Kovind was exemplary in his impartiality and that it prides him to support for Rashtrapati Bhawan a candidate with a strong link to his state.
It is to demolish that defence that Lalu Yadav repeatedly refers to his candidate, Meira Kumar, as Bihar's Daughter. A five-term former MP, she is the daughter of freedom fighter Jagjivan Ram who was from Bihar. Like Mr Kovind, she is a Dalit, a factor that ensured fence-sitting opposition leaders like Mayawati and Sharad Pawar could not hop over to the BJP's side. Like Mr Kumar.
Unflappable, he says it is the opposition that is erring by turning a Dalit woman, a daughter of Bihar no less, into a sacrificial lamb by entering her into a contest which she is bound to lose. "Is this the sort of strategy the opposition will develop 2019?" he asked, virtually ridiculing the plan - which he helped draw up - of anti-BJP parties converging into a mega-combine against Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the next general election.
In 2013, Mr Kumar ended a 17-year partnership with the BJP over its choosing Mr Modi as its candidate for Prime Minister. In recent months, the two leaders have supported each other's most questioned decisions- the Chief Minister's ban on liquor in Bihar and the PM's shock ban of high-denomination notes.
Now Mr Kumar has shown that he is over his former extreme hostility for the PM, that he wants to be on the winning team and that he isn't afraid to risk the wrath of his allies. It helps that the BJP has enough law-makers in Bihar to keep him in office if he decides to cut off his current partners. It is clear that neither of them would choose that ending-Lalu Yadav's children are being investigated for corruption (two are ministers in Bihar) and political power could afford him some agency in fighting their cases; the Congress has only a skinny group of states in which it is in government and would not like to see one of those drop off its map.
Lalu Yadav's son Tejashwi Yadav, who is Bihar's Deputy Chief Minister, has said that it's wrong to assume the opposition will lose the election for President; but he also said that elections are about ideology, restating his father's line - that it is important for opposition parties to stand up and be counted among those fighting the BJP's "fascism".
Nitish Kumar's aides retort that in fact, it is Lalu Yadav and others who are helping the BJP's cause. Explanation: Meira Kumar is a Jatav Dalit; Ram Nath Kovind is a non-Jatav Dalit, a key segment that the BJP has managed to win over. They insist that the BJP has therefore signalled that it is backing a sub-section of Dalits that has drifted to it, and that the opposition has erred by putting up a Dalit from a competing sub-caste.
Last evening, Nitish Kumar attended an iftar party hosted by Lalu Yadav. They were seated next to each other and hugged before the Chief Minister departed. That is about the extent of embracing their differences on the election.