In the context of efforts to forge Opposition unity for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and to put up a common Opposition candidate for the presidential polls in July, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar
today met Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
It was their first meeting in nearly a year. Kumar met the Congress President at her official residence at 10, Janpath. Janata Dal (United) sources said the meeting came about at the initiative of the Congress president. No other Congress leaders were present at the one on one meeting that lasted half an hour.
According to sources, the two leaders discussed the recent assembly polls in five states, in which the BJP did well, and the need for the Opposition parties to come together.
Sources said the recent targeting of deputy chief minister Tejaswi Yadav, son of Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad, over his controversial land deals by the BJP may also have been touched upon by Kumar and Congress president.
But sources in both Congress and JD (U) rejected speculation that their alliance in Bihar, along with RJD, was under stress. The RJD, JD (U) and Congress comprise the ruling alliance in Bihar, and Kumar and Prasad advocate a similar grand alliance
for the 2019 polls.
As a precursor to that, Kumar-led JD (U) and Left parties are of the view that the Opposition should put up a symbolic fight against the BJP-led National
Democratic Alliance in the presidential polls.
"The Congress being the largest opposition party should take the lead," JD (U) leader KC Tyagi said, but insisted that the issue of presidential polls did not come up during the discussion between Gandhi and Kumar.
Tyagi pointed out previous occasions when a united Opposition has put a common candidate despite the result being a foregone conclusion. The NDA is barely 20,000 electoral college votes short, and is likely to win the election comfortably.
In the recent past, Kumar has met Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, Communist Party of India (Marxist) chief Sitaram Yechury and Communist Party of India leadership. He is also in contact with West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, JD (U) sources said.
Today, Kumar also visited the residence of Indian National
Lok Dal chief Om Prakash Chautala. But a party leader said it was more a courtesy call as the Haryana leader's grandson Dushyant, a Lok Sabha member, recently got married.
In past couple of weeks, Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati has proposed a united fight against BJP in 2019. Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav
welcomed Mayawati's remark, but party patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav did not find the idea interesting. But SP sources said the change of guard has taken place in the party and Akhilesh will continue to decide on important issues.
Prominent leaders in the Opposition ranks are working towards putting together a common minimum programme to have a sharper focus on the road ahead.