New Delhi: Janata Dal United leader and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on Tuesday sparked off the debate on prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 general elections by hinting that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi is unacceptable as the Prime Ministerial candidate to his party.
In an interview to the 'Economic Times', Kumar had insisted that the National Democractic Alliance should name its Prime Ministerial candidate before the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and the candidate must have secular credentials and a liberal frame of mind. This has opened a new chapter in the rivalry between Modi and Nitish. The issue was taken up for the discussion on India @ 9.
Here is the full transcript of the discussion:
Rajdeep Sardesai: Who should be the NDAs prime ministerial candidate? Joining us now are the BJP leader Yatin Oza, he joins us from Ahmedabad, Sankarshan Thakur, Roving Editor, The Telegraph, who is also writing a biography of Nitish Kumar, Prabhu Chawla, Editorial Director, The New Indian Express, Sabir Ali, the JDU MP, to give us the JDU perspective and Bhupendra Chaubey Chief of Bureau of CNN-IBN. Yatin Oza is it not embarrassing for the Gujarat Chief Minister for his prime ministerial credentials to be targeted in in the public manner that Nitish Kumar has done?
Yatin Oza: Absolutely not. Let me tell you Nitish Kumar has not named anybody. He has never said that Narendra Modi is not acceptable to him. Today, we find that anybody who speaks about anything with regard to, reference to, context whether matching or not, it is sort to be matched with Narendra Modi. What different thing has he said? Everybody in the country wants a secular Prime Minister, everybody in the country wants a Prime Minister who can develop the country and it is a routine whether it is the UPA or the NDA, the biggest party would nominate the Prime Minister.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Are you saying Yatin Oza that Nitish Kumar was not referring to Narendra Modi?
Yatin Oza: Absolutely not! For two reasons that not only he has not named him but as on date the BJP leaders have not decided, the leadership is undecided on who is going to lead 2014. Until and unless the BJP leadership applies its mind and then declares Modi and then Nitish Kumar says he is not acceptable, I dont think we are on the realm of conjecture of the surmises.
Rajdeep Sardesai: So, when Nitish Kumar says the person should be secular, should not have rough edges, should be in sync with Indias diversity, he didnt refer to Narendra Modi?
Yatin Oza: No. Modi is one of the best secular leaders and let me tell you wait for six months, let the Gujarat elections come, you will find my Muslim brothers and sisters, my Christian brothers and sisters n-bloc voting for Modi, which would silence each and every critic of his.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Sabir Ali, you heard what Yatin Oza said. Should Nitish Kumar, he has not even named Narendra Modi, dare and name Narendra Modi? Why is he not naming Narendra Modi but at the same time giving us enough reasons for us to speculate that he is targeting Narendra Modi, plus in a coalition dharma when the party which is supporting you is the BJP, can one chief minister attack the other chief minister of your own supporting allied party?
Sabir Ali: See, I can tell you what Yatin Oza has said that he has not quoted any names so far till today directly. And now I can tell you, in whole statement, I have gone through today, he has not named anybody, he has not targeted anybody. He has just given a suggestion as a coalition partner to improve and to make large issue.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Sabir Ali ji, Nitish Kumar does not allow Narendra Modi to campaign in Bihar.
Sabir Ali: That is a different issue.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Are you saying that Nitish Kumar and the JD(U) are ready to have Narendra Modi as a prime ministerial candidate?
Sabir Ali: No.
Rajdeep Sardesai: You are not ready?
Sabir Ali: Exactly, we are not. Why we should? He is from the BJP, we dont have any right to support Narendra Modi, but we are saying if he will be promoted we will back out.
Rajdeep Sardesai: You are saying if Narendra Modi is promoted as the prime ministerial candidate, you will back out of the NDA.?
Sabir Ali: We are not targeting anybody, that is not our agenda. Our agenda as a coalition partner is to look that the NDA should improve and make a large picture.
Rajdeep Sardesai: You know both of you are playing some kind of a chuppa rustum game. Sankarshan Thakur, fortunately you are not a politician so you can be open, is Nitish Kumar simply slowly positioning himself for the next general elections, either as a NDA Prime Minister candidate or as a Third Front consensual candidate? Is that what Nitishs game now?
Sankarshan Thakur: Could be, but I think what he is doing more foregroundedly is barricading Narendra Modis chances to the extent that he (Nitish) can become the front runner in the 2014 elections. I mean politicians, Rajdeep, will say what they have to say, only the deaf, dumb and blind will say Nitish does not have Narendra Modi in mind. The spat between the two has been going on for years now. Not just the 2010 elections, the 2005 elections, Narendra Modi has had no role to play and thats the bottom line condition that Nitish has put and to which the NDA has agreed to. We shouldnt be having doubts that what is happening here. I also dont have doubts, although both men deny prime ministerial ambitions and both are positioning themselves and both see in the present scenario as the biggest threat in each other and thats why there is almost a weekly spat.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Almost weakly spat. Prabhu Chawla, we know that there is division in the BJP also over Narendra Modi that whether he should be the prime ministerial candidate. Will the BJP leadership now reign in Nitish Kumar and tell where to get off or will the BJP leadership also encourage Nitish Kumar to an extent? Sushil Kumar today did not even want to differ with what Nitish Kumar has said. Is Nitish Kumar echoing sentiment of a section of the NDA which is uncomfortable with the idea of Narendra Modi as the prime minister?
Prabhu Chawla: NDA means what? I dont understand. Twelve or 15 MPs of Janata Dal doesnt mean they are NDA. The question is which is the single-largest party. The Congress decides its own leader, the BJP decides its own leader.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Are you stating Nitish Kumar has no right to decide?
Sabir Ali: No, where has Nitish Kumar said that he is going to decide, he has said that he has the bigger party
Prabhu Chawla: Dont interrupt me.
Sabir Ali: No, no I am not interrupting you, I am speaking because you quoted my party. He has not said that we going to decide, he has said that the BJP is the bigger party, let them decide. As a coalition partner
Rajdeep Sardesai: At the same time you have said on this programme that if the BJP decides on Narendra Modi, youll walk out of the NDA. Please let Prabhu ji respond here.
Prabhu Chawla: They said Nitish Kumars mind is being reflected here, he uses all the MPs to abuse at each other, everybody. You are the only MP who has said that we will not allow Modi to become prime minister. Under which authority are you saying this? You are saying Nitish has not taken the name, you are saying my party has given me the authority. You make up your mind. I am saying who is this party of 18 MPs to decide who will be the prime minister of this country? Party which will get the largest number of seats, will decide who will be the prime minister. Now, let me complete.
Sabir Ali: We are 20 not 18.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Sabir ji, please allow Prabhu Chawla to complete. Prabhu Chawla what is your point?
Prabhu Chawla: My point is very clear, in a democracy it is a game of numbers, whichever party gets the larger number it is for that party to decide whether it is Modi or somebody else. As you rightly point there might be division within the BJP to make Modi the prime ministerial candidate or not. But why Nitish has chosen, who is a chosen chief minister, choosing a business paper, he is selling himself to the constituency which sits in Bombay, which sits in the urban cities, he is appealing to the corporate sector, he is not appealing to the constituency. Nitishs saying that a secular prime minister has to be there is like saying grass should be green; grass has to be green. India cannot have a non-secular prime minister in the country.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Bhupendra Chaubey, why is the BJP silent? Why havent we seen the BJP central leadership take a most strident stand against Nitish Kumar? They didnt do it in 2010 when Nitish said Modi cannot enter Bihar and they havent done it again. Why is the BJP leadership silent?
Bhupendra Chaubey: Because the BJP high command would like Nitish Kumar to come out and take on the might and the capabilities of Narendra Modi. The BJP high command is very clear, come the month of December 2012, if Narendra Modi repeats the kind of performance which he is most likely to be repeating as has done last time around, Narendra Modi candidature in central politics will be very, very strong, whether it is an LK Advani or an Arun Jaitley or a Sushma Swaraj or even a Nitin Gadkari. The Modi train will be very difficult to stop.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Yatin Oza, in a sense is this episode also revealing Modis limitations? He is the unquestioned BJP leader in Gujarat and perhaps the unquestioned leader of Gujarat. But when it come to national politics, you have to take along everyone, particularly in this coalition era, can Narendra Modi take along people like Nitish Kumar to become the prime ministerial candidate of the NDA? Or will he be caught in a tussle between him and Nitish Kumar wherein someone else might emerge as the prime ministerial candidate?
Yatin Oza: As I know Modi for ages by now, let me tell you he has full capacity to take everybody together.
Rajdeep Sardesai: But isnt the 2002 Gujarat haunting him, which is why Nitish Kumar is using it against Modi?
Yatin Oza: I really dont know why should we keep this ghost alive? You please see the official figures of the state government and you will find that every possible step was taken at that time to prevent it. But Rajdeep, please keep one thing in mind, a chief minister who is faced with a situation where 59 people have been burnt alive, his mind working on how he will face the people and answer the people where 59 people were burnt alive, when all of this happened as a reaction which should not have happened. It has happened as a natural reaction from the majority community was beyond his visualisation, beyond him to think that this would happen. And please see the official figure of the state government backed by documents as to what steps were taken to curb it.
Rajdeep Sardesai: You dont think Narendra Modi needs to reach out to Nitish Kumar and say look lets forget Gujarat 2002, I am even ready to apologise for failing to control the riots, you dont think that is necessary?
Yatin Oza: Where is the question of Narendra Modi or any leader of BJP saying anything. Nitish Kumar has definitely not named Modi and secondly Modi or anybody else is not yet officially declared to hold the post of the prime minister.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Sabir Ali, you say that we have not named Narendra Modi, yet you are using every opportunity to somewhere target Narendra Modi, you didnt allow him to campaign in 2010, you are now hinting, you have openly said in this programme that you will not allow Narendra Modi to be the prime ministerial candidate of the NDA. Is it that only the JD(U) knows secularism, can secularism be defined only by the JD(U) today, is Narendra Modi paraya (stranger) for life, is the caste politics of Bihar to be forgotten?
Sabir Ali: We are not saying who is secular or the secular, we are saying what we have to say.
Rajdeep Sardesai: So who will decide the secular? Will JD(U) decide who is secular?
Sabir Ali: The BJP people who are there in Bihar, the leader of the BJP who is in Bihar, they have campaigned together and they have won the election and shown, without any people coming in Bihar, we have done wonderful.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Do you have a monopoly of what is secular?
Sabir Ali: We are not in monopoly but we said that as a partner of more than one-and-a-half-decade.
Bhupendra Chaubey: Should I quickly say what Sabir Ali will not say. The reason why Nitish Kumar has chosen to support the candidature of Pranab Mukherjee because Nitish realised that in 2014 there is a strong possibility that neither the BJP nor the Congress being in a position of forming a government on their own. The possibility of small fringe players coming together is high. Nitish Kumar emerging as a champion of the secularism in the country could perhaps be the person the Congress could back. He has always, all along tried to keep a window of opportunity open with the Congress party and thats the reason why Nitish Kumar is hitting out against Narendra Modi.
Rajdeep Sardesai: But is this going to be now, as you are saying Sankarshan Thakur, a weekly confrontation. I mean one day we have Narendra Modi questioning caste-politics in Bihar, now we have Nitish Kumar questioning, in a sense, the secular credentials of Narendra Modi even without naming him. Is this now going to be a weekly confrontation and what does it do to the NDA?
Sankarshan Thakur: My suspicion is that it is going to be upgraded and if I know Nitish Kumar and let me add that I only know him as a journalist knows a politician; Narendra Modi for whatever reason, for ideological reason, for ambition, or probably for both, Nitish Kumar is not going to accept Narendra Modis leadership in any form. I am prepared to bet my last shirt on it, he will pull out of any arrangement if Narendra Modi is at the top. He will try and prevent a situation where Narendra Modi can be revealed as a leader after things have gone down so far which is why he is insisting on a pre-election declaration of candidate. Cards are being played and you know these are not anonymous cards. It doesnt take rocket science to guess who is talking about who and why.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Prabhu you can take this up. If it is a pre-election candidate to be announced, is there is a feeling that in this battle between Nitish on one side and Modi on the other, someone else will slip through as a consensual candidate? Nitish and Modi by shadow boxing each other are creating a situation where NDA will be forced to look for someone else other than these two, is this what emerging?
Prabhu Chawla: Rajdeep one think I must remind about the TV journalism is that they look at the numbers, they look at the possibilities. No government or no prime minister can be made in this country unless a national party supports him or her, thats the reality of this country. Whether you think Nitish Kumar will be acceptable to the Congress party, he will not be accepted by the BJP, that much I know. He can take the support of the BJP to become the chief minister of the state because he is the opportunist politician like everybody is. He took the Hindu party to get the Hindu and the upper caste votes and kept the backward with himself.
Sabir Ali: See, I object to this.
Rajdeep Sardesai: No, no, let Prabhu speak. He is saying Nitish Kumar took the help of the BJP when it suited him and today he is targeting BJP on non-secularism.
Sabir Ali: Not when it suited him, we are still with the BJP, we are in alliance with the BJP.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Prabhu ji please complete.
Prabhu Chawla: So, I am saying Nitish sits with the RSS in the cabinet, he eats with them, he dines with them. It is a mutual understand of opportunism because everything is happening in this country is opportunism.
Rajdeep Sardesai: You are saying BJP which is secular becomes non-secular outside Bihar.
Prabhu Chawla: And I dont agree with Chaubey that BJP is trying to defeat Modi in Gujarat, it is not going to hit its own foot because if BJP wins in Gujarat then only it can dictate term on others.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Do you see some one else emerging other than Nitish or Modi because of the fight between the two?
Prabhu Chawla: It depends which national party becomes the number one party. You are assuming that the national party will be reduced to zero.
Rajdeep Sardesai: You are saying Nitish Kumar or anybody else cannot dictate terms on the national party.
Prabhu Chawla: Nitish Kumar has become the darling of the corporate sector, he has lost his identity. Nobody will listen to him. He has lost his acceptability.
Sabir Ali: I dont understand that. Such a senior journalist will talk like that to give a statement in a business paper but he will lose his credentials to the poor people. I cant understand that. I have never heard anything like this.
Bhupendra Chaubey: Nitish Kumars prominence within the NDA can be gauged from the fact that today is a day when not one single BJP leader has spoken out in favour of Narendra Modi.
Rajdeep Sardesai: We are going to leave it at that but obviously this battle is going to continue. We have only seen the trailer possibly.