New Delhi: Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has asked the Congress president Sonia Gandhi to take a lead in getting together opposition parties to challenge the ruling BJP-led National Democratic Alliance or NDA by fielding a candidate for the Presidential elections in July this year. Mr Kumar visited Mrs Gandhi at her 10 Janpath residence in Delhi on Thursday in what his party, Janata Dal (United), described as a "long overdue courtesy call."
"JD-U wants that for the presidential polls, Mrs Gandhi should take the lead in fielding a united candidate of the opposition," Janata Dal leader KC Tyagi said after Mr Kumar's meeting with Mrs Gandhi, who recently returned from a visit abroad for medical treatment. Mr Tyagi said Mr Kumar enquired about Mrs Gandhi's health.
Sources said it was a strategy meet between the two Bihar allies also to discuss extending their Mahagathbandan or Grand Alliance in the state to the national stage to take on the BJP in the 2019 general election.
A common opposition candidate for President would begin the process. The presidential elections are due in July when the term of President Pranab Mukherjee ends.
Asked about the possibility of a tie-up for the Gujarat assembly elections due later this year, Mr Tyagi said there has been no proposal from the Congress so far. The Congress is a partner in the ruling alliance in Bihar that includes the JD (U) and Lalu Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD). The alliance, put together to defeat the BJP in the 2015 assembly elections, was a success and saw Nitish Kumar installed as Chief Minister for a fourth term.
Mr Kumar, a former BJP ally, has said before that the Congress should take the initiative to bring all major non-BJP parties on a single platform to defeat the BJP's alliance in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. He has also attributed the BJP's sweep of Uttar Pradesh last month to the lack of a Bihar-like alliance.
At yesterday's meeting, sources said, Mr Kumar suggested to Mrs Gandhi that, "Instead of reacting to Narendra Modi, we should be setting our own agenda."
There has been speculation over many months now that Nitish Kumar's anti-BJP stand is fading, not least after he invited BJP leaders for a Makar Sankranti feast recently. His deteriorating relationship with alliance partner Lalu Yadav has also fuelled the speculation that Mr Kumar could be looking at a political re-alignment and getting back with the BJP, which he dumped four years ago.