Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar was on Sunday elected as Janata Dal (United) president, a move that would put him in complete command of the party as its seeks to expand beyond the state and prepares for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
His unanimous election to the top post at the party’s National Executive meeting at New Delhi brought an end to the decade-old tenure of Sharad Yadav, who had ruled himself out for a fourth term.
It is for the first time that Kumar, JD(U)’s face in Bihar, has been elected president of the state-centric party.
Its two previous presidents — George Fernandes and Sharad Yadav — were from outside Bihar, the state they virtually made their political home.
The Hindu reported that Kumar’s name was proposed by Yadav and seconded by the party’s secretary general K.C. Tyagi, general secretary Javed Raza, among others, party leaders said following the meeting.
The Bihar Chief Minister, who made a spectacular return to power last year after his party was bruised and battered in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, told the executive about efforts being made to bring parties with similar ideologies together as he accepted the new responsibility, Tyagi said.
Having spearheaded the JD(U)-RJD-Congress alliance to a massive win over BJP-led NDA in the last year’s state assembly polls, his party is in talks with Ajit Singh-led RLD and former Jharkhand Chief Minister Babulal Marandi’s Jharkhand Vikas Morcha for a merger.
A similar merger move to bring together six Janata Parivar outfits including the Samajwadi Party had come to nought last year ahead of the Bihar polls after SP supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav walked out of the talks and his party contested the state assembly elections on its own.
The JD(U) sees the next year’s Uttar Pradesh assembly polls as a major battle before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Tyagi said, as he underlined the importance of the merger attempts to take on BJP.
"We stopped them (BJP) in Bihar and we are working to stop them in UP,” he said, noting that sweeping the Lok Sabha polls in these two states was the key to the emphatic win of the saffron alliance.
Asked if JD(U) would make another attempt at merger with Samajwadi Party, he noted that Mulayam Singh Yadav as well as BSP supremo Mayawati had made it clear they will go it alone in the elections.
Party sources said the presence of Kumar, the prominent party leader, at the helm, will help JD(U) make swift moves with regard to alliances and also help position himself as a rallying point for opposition parties against Modi in the Lok Sabha polls.
"Humbled by party’s trust in me. Will try my best to carry Sharad Yadav’s legacy forward and I accept the new role as president of JD(U),” Kumar tweeted after his election.
The National Council of the party will meet in Patna on April 23 to ratify Kumar’s election to the top post.
Kumar praised Sharad Yadav’s contribution to building the JD(U) and said he will continue to be a "margdarshak” (mentor) to the party.
With speculations over the Rajya Sabha MP’s future role, Yadav said he would continue to broaden the base of the party which had "no longer remained big”.
"I will remain what I was earlier... I am in national politics not due to the party,” he told reporters earlier in the day at his residence where JD(U)’s office bearers had met.
A resolution passed at the Executive hailed Yadav, saying he maintained an honourable distance from nepotism, self-glorification and factionalism.
Yadav, one of the founder leaders of the party along with Nitish Kumar, had been at the helm since 2006 and was re-elected for a third term in 2013 after the JD(U) constitution was amended to allow him a third term in office.
Tyagi said an atmosphere of despondency, similar to the one before the Lok Sabha polls, now prevailed in the country with BJP’s pursuit of "contentious” issues. He called BJP’s alliance with PDP to form government in Jammu and Kashmir "opportunism of the highest order”.
BJP under Narendra Modi and Amit Shah is not the party of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani, he said.
Hitting out at the RSS over its nationalism pitch, Tyagi said the Hindutva outfit’s head in 1947 had disapproved of the tricolour, saying three (the number of colours in the flag) was an inauspicious number.