Bihar politicos rack their brains on how well Nitish fits the bill for India's President

Patna, Jun 11 (PTI) The choppy political waters of Bihar are roiled, once again, over talks of its longest-serving Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's deservingness for the post of the country's President.

Rumors, which had subsided a few months ago after Kumar's categorical assertion that he intended to remain in the state and serve its people, have resurfaced after the Election Commission announced Presidential polls earlier this week.

Only an official announcement of candidates, including by the NDA of which the Bihar chief minister's JD(U) is a part, may put an end to the current round of frantic speculations.

Meanwhile, the RJD, founded and headed by the JD(U) leader's arch rival Lalu Prasad, has found in the talks of "Rashtrapati Nitish Kumar" some ammunition to target the chief minister for his past acts of alleged political transgression.

"We had called Nitish Kumar Prime Minister material when we ran the government in the state in alliance with his party. But he never cared to abide by coalition dharma. He chose to support the then Bihar Governor Ram Nath Kovind's candidature in the last Presidential elections even though he was not a part of the NDA," said RJD spokesman Mrityunjay Tiwari.

"Nitish Kumar had defended his action by speciously linking it to the issue of Bihari pride. The Congress-led UPA had fielded Meira Kumar, whom we supported and who was actually a Bihari and had been elected to the Lok Sabha from the state," Tiwari pointed out.

The RJD spokesperson said that if Kumar indeed made it to the Raisina Hills, "we will be proud despite what he has done to us in the past since he is a Bihari. But we doubt whether the BJP, which seems to have put him on a political slow poison, will let it happen".

Tiwari pointed towards the sharp decline in JD(U)'s strength in the state assembly, which has been blamed on the rebellion of Chirag Paswan in the 2020 assembly polls, when he was believed to be enjoying BJP's tacit support.

"The BJP wants Nitish Kumar to be dethroned in disgrace. Would it tolerate him as President or even Vice President," remarked Tiwari, in a tongue-in-cheek reference to the old but checkered ties of the JD(U) with the saffron party which became more pronounced with the ascendance of Narendra Modi.

The BJP, which has a brute majority in Lok Sabha, rules many states and yet will have to depend on the support of some sympathetic parties outside the NDA to get the candidate of its choice past the finishing line, is non-committal.

When Union minister Giriraj Singh, one of Kumar's best-known detractors, was asked about the chief minister's deservingness for the top post, he frowned and refused to comment underscoring that no party or alliance has so far announced its candidate.

State minister Amarendra Pratap Singh, a BJP leader, said the NDA might spring a surprise as it did two decades ago when the Atal Bihari Vajpayee dispensation fielded APJ Abdul Kalam, the celebrated nuclear scientist, who romped home riding the massive support he received from parties cutting across the ideological divide.

The most subdued response comes, not surprisingly, from the chief minister's own JD(U) which is thrilled to hear that its leader is held in such high esteem but upset over the triteness the topic has come to acquire.

"Undoubtedly our leader is a deserving candidate for any of the top posts in the country. But deservingness is not enough. Do we not see well-qualified people who are unable to find even a decent job," rued Ashok Choudhary, an influential minister who has formerly headed the JD(U)'s state unit.

Notably, there were furious speculations a few months ago about Kumar, who is aged 70 years and has been the chief minister of Bihar since 2005, setting his eyes on a plum assignment in Delhi.

The speculations were triggered by a statement of an NCP leader in Maharashtra that Kumar could be backed by the entire opposition in Presidential polls if he broke away from the BJP.

The JD(U), with 16 Lok Sabha MPs, is currently the largest alliance partner of the BJP at the Centre.