Union minister Ramadas Athawale on Saturday lamented the exit of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's JD(U) from the NDA despite his “good relations” with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The RPI leader also expressed the view that the JD(U) leader, who has since been at the forefront of forging opposition unity, should skip the next meeting of non-BJP bloc INDIA at Mumbai scheduled next month.
“Koi faayda nahin hai (it will be of no use)”, said Athawale, asserting that it was his “advice” to Kumar to refrain from attending the meet.
“He seems to be not happy in that camp. He was unhappy with the acronym INDIA but Rahul Gandhi prevailed”, said Athawale, referring to speculations in a section of the media that emerged after the new name was announced at the meeting in Bengaluru earlier this month.
Kumar himself has dismissed such speculations and asserted that the new name of the opposition coalition was decided unanimously.
Athawale, who also fondly recalled his own “good relations” with Kumar “since the days both of us served in the cabinet headed by late Atal Bihari Vajpayee”, was asked whether he would favour Kumar’s return to the BJP-led NDA, which he had quit last year.
“It is for Nitish Kumar and the BJP to take a call”, the RPI leader remarked, apparently mindful of Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s repeated assertion that henceforth there would be no truck with the JD(U) boss.
The Union minister, who is here to attend a few functions, remarked that he has travelled to a few parts of the state and was struck by the good work done by Kumar during his tenure as a chief minister.
“But he has now gone with his former adversary RJD. I wonder if he had to do that, why did he join us (NDA) six years ago”, remarked Athawale.
He also rejected the JD(U)’s charge that the Narendra Modi government has been ignoring Bihar’s concerns, asserting “We have so many ministers at the Centre from the state. We also consider the people of the state as our own. Every paisa that is earmarked for the state is released by us”.
The Dalit leader from Maharashtra was also asked about the charge that the BJP had, by inducting into the government in the western state a breakaway faction of the NCP, joined hands with those whom it previously accused of corruption.
Athawale replied with trademark candour, “It is not those who have come with us are corrupt. It is those who are on the other side of the fence”.
He also claimed: “The NDA’s strength in Maharashtra will grow in direct proportion to the intensity of the attacks from Uddhav Thackeray and his associates”.
He added, tongue in cheek, “I would like to see a change in Bihar on the lines of Maharashtra. I urge the people here to take a cue”.
Athawale, who is the junior minister for social justice and empowerment, reiterated that he was supportive of the demand for a caste census, pointing out that this has been the official stand of his Republican Party of India (RPI).
Replying to a query, he said, “The Modi government is not opposed to caste census per se. There are some technical issues which have prevented even previous governments from undertaking a headcount of OBCs and the general category. Hopefully, a way out will be found”.
About the visit of an opposition delegation to Manipur, he said, “Let them bring their findings to Parliament and sincerely take part in a debate, which the government has been all too ready for. But they have been skirting that under one pretext or the other”.
“The government is doing everything possible in Manipur where insurgents are said to be sneaking from adjoining Myanmar to take advantage of the unrest. The Home Minister was ready to give a statement inside the House. But the opposition was adamant that it would listen to nobody except the PM,” rued the Union minister.