Mr Patnaik, one of the longest-serving Chief Ministers of any state in the country, is, like Nitish Kumar, a former BJP ally. He has tried to remain equidistant from the Congress and the BJP.
On a mission to unite like-minded opposition parties to cobble up a grand opposition alliance against the BJP ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar today met his Odisha counterpart and Biju Janata Dal chief Naveen Patnaik in Bhubaneswar. He, along with his deputy and RJ(D) leader Tejashwi Yadav had recently met West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in Kolkata, who herself had met Naveen Patnaik a few days ago.
Nitish Kumar reportedly emphasised personal relations and asked Mr Patnaik not to worry about political discussions. Mr Patnaik has also said there were no discussions over any alliance.
“Ours is a known friendship, and we were colleagues many years ago. No discussion was held on any alliances today,” the Odisha Chief Minister said after the meeting.
Naveen Patnaik consciously maintains a distance from any formation, whether led by the BJP or Congress, and is seen as friendly to any formation at the Centre. However, his agreeing to meet with Nitish Kumar, with whom he shares cordial relations and has been a cabinet colleague in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Cabinet, is significant.
Nitish Kumar is also planning a big meeting of all Opposition Leaders in Delhi on May 18.
Mr Patnaik is one of the few Chief Ministers who Nitish Kumar, out of respect, sees off at the airport whenever they visit Patna. Sources said even though Nitish Kumar is not very hopeful that Naveen Patnaik will be present in the planned grand meeting of opposition leaders, he is optimistic to get him on board more actively against the BJP.
Mr Kumar will tomorrow meet Jharkhand Chief Minister and Jharkhand Mukti Morcha chief Hemant Soren. He will also meet NCP Chief Sharad Pawar and Shiv Sena (UBT) Chief Uddhav Thackeray in Mumbai on Thursday.
Mr Patnaik, one of the longest-serving Chief Ministers of any state in the country, is, like Nitish Kumar, a former BJP ally. He has tried to remain equidistant from the Congress and the BJP since he exited NDA in 2008. However, he has supported the BJP government in the passage of several important Bills in Parliament.
When Mr Kumar met Mamata Banerjee, she asked him to convene a meeting, in Bihar, of leaders from across the country who are opposed to the BJP.
Mr Kumar has hinted that such a meeting could take place after the Karnataka assembly elections.
The ‘Nitish formula’, which the Bihar Chief Minister is believed to be presenting to Opposition leaders, suggests one opposition candidate in each parliamentary seat against the BJP — a Herculean challenge requiring sophisticated political negotiation given the individual aspirations of a divided Opposition.
Sharad Pawar had confirmed his meeting with Nitish Kumar at his press conference during which he announced his decision to withdraw his resignation as NCP boss.
“Devesh Chandra Thakur (JDU leader and chairman of the legislative council in Bihar) and (JDU Maharashtra leader) Kapil Patil met me to discuss the need for a united Opposition (against the BJP) and they passed me a message that Nitish Kumar is likely to host a meeting of Opposition leaders in Delhi on May 18, and I have been requested to attend it,” Mr Pawar said.
The Bihar Chief Minister, who snapped ties with BJP last year, vowing to defeat it in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, has toured many places and met political leaders of various hues as part of his “opposition unity drive”.
Earlier, he had met former Congress president Rahul Gandhi, Samajwadi Party boss Akhilesh Yadav, and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, among others. He has been tasked with bringing together Opposition parties that have no love lost for the Congress. Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao, another opposition leader touring the country to stitch together a formidable alliance, had last year in August met Nitish Kumar. Mr Rao, who rechristened his party from Telangana Rashtra Samithi to Bharat Rashtra Samithi with an eye on going national, is now reportedly open to the idea of joining a coalition led by the Congress but has reservations about Rahul Gandhi as the face of the alliance.
Nitish Kumar’s renewed push for a grand alliance comes after the Opposition saw a rare display of unity following the recent disqualification of Rahul Gandhi from the Lok Sabha after conviction and sentencing in a 2019 defamation case. Opposition parties have been united in accusing the BJP-led Centre of targetting regional party leaders using central probe agencies.
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