Nitish Kumar has broken ranks with the rest of the opposition to support Ram Nath Kovind, the candidate for President backed by the BJP-led coalition that rules the centre.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has found another point of praise for the BJP, which is certain to add a little more chill to his Antarctica-like relations with his allies. "The BJP," he told his party, "showed its consideration by ensuring its candidate for President, Ram Nath Kovind, did not tour Patna." That would have been, well, awkward. Nitish Kumar broke with the side he's meant to be on - the opposition - to back Ram Nath Kovind in today's election. The opposition, spurned by him, is fielding former Speaker Meira Kumar. Though results will be counted on Thursday, it's virtually a done deal. The BJP has collected the support of nearly 40 parties to accrue 70 per cent of the vote for its man. Nitish Kumar is on the winning team.
His decision to side with the BJP raised a considerable contretemps with his allies - Lalu Yadav and the Congress. If, during his nationwide tour to gather support, Ram Nath Kovind had stopped in Patna, the Chief Minister would have been forced to make a tough call on whether to meet him or ignore his stopover. The former would have meant more jousting with his partners, the latter would make it seem like the criticism of his cross-voting has stuck.
While his party, at a meeting yesterday, acknowledged that the BJP had indeed done a solid to the Chief Minister by asking its candidate to eschew Patna, some pointed out that when Pranab Mukherjee was elected in 2012, he too had not visited Patna under similar circumstances - Nitish Kumar had backed him and not the opposition's candidate. Mr Mukherjee was the nominee of the then Congress-led government, and the Bihar Chief Minister threw his weight behind him, setting what would turn out to be a personal trend.
Meira Kumar, who is the candidate of 18 opposition parties that say they are committed to fighting the BJP, did visit Patna recently - Nitish Kumar departed the evening before she arrived for the town of Rajgir, with his office saying he was unwell. That spared him from having to see the former MP from Bihar whose candidature he is opposing. His party is officially a member of the anti-BJP front and on the matter of Vice President, who will be elected next month, he is backing its choice, former Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi. The government has yet to announce its candidate.
However, the Chief Minister's partnership with Lalu Yadav is in tatters, with him insisting on the resignation of Tejashwi Yadav, who is Deputy Chief Minister and Lalu Yadav's son, because the 28-year-old has been charged with corruption by the CBI. Sources say that after the voting for President is completed today, the negotiations over Tejashwi Yadav's removal will accelerate.