Cong says JD(U) is secular and like-minded party

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15TH_NITISH_KUMARNew Delhi, June 15;Seeking to fish in troubled waters, Congress on Saturday extended an olive branch to JD(U) describing it as a “secular and like-minded party” on the eve of a possible decision by Nitish Kumar’s party to snap ties with the BJP-led NDA.

At a time when Narendra Modi has become the poster boy of the BJP, the ruling Congress called for an alliance of secular forces in nation’s interest.

“JD(U) is a like-minded party, which has faith in secularism. It is in alliance with a party with which its ideology does not match,” party spokesman Bhakta Charan Das told reporters sending clear signals for the first time that Congress was not averse to doing business with Mr. Kumar’s party.

His comments came close on the heels of party vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s remarks in Srinagar that any decision on inviting JD(U) to join UPA will be taken by senior Congress leaders.

JD(U), the second largest constituent of the NDA with 20 Lok Sabha seats, is set to walk out of a 17 year-old association with the BJP following the elevation of Narendra Modi as chief of BJP’s election campaign committee. The Bihar Chief Minister has a strong antipathy for Mr. Modi.

The Congress’ call for the coming together of “like minded secular forces” came at a time when regional leaders like Naveen Patnaik, Mamata Banerjee and Kumar are talking about the formation of a Federal Front of non-Congress, non-BJP parties.

“Like-minded secular parties have come together in the past and can come together even in future. Political formation of like-minded forces in the interest of the nation can happen any time,” Mr. Das said.

Congress is sharing power at the Centre since May 2004 after the UPA under Sonia Gandhi ousted Atal Behari Vajpayee-led NDA from power.

It has also formed a committee headed by senior leader A.K. Antony to go into the issue of alliances as part of finding new friends and allies ahead of the Lok Sabha polls less than a year away.

Mr. Das steered clear of questions whether the JD(U) or the RJD is its natural ally in Bihar and which of the two it considers as more secular.

JD(U)’s principal rival in Bihar politics Lalu Prasad’s RJD is an outside ally of UPA-II. Mr. Prasad was a minister in UPA-I but had contested the last Lok Sabha election in Bihar separately from Congress.

Mr. Prasad, who as Chief Minister of Bihar in 1990 ordered the arrest of L.K. Advani, when he was on Rathyatra during the peak of Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute, has repeatedly been calling for a secular alliance at the Centre for next general elections.

“Both parties advocate secularism. Today, we are with the RJD. There is no confusion on it. Tomorrow if some situation emerges, our leaders will look into that. It’s not the time for us to comment on it,” he said when asked which of the two Congress will prefer.

There is a view in the Congress that if JD(U) parts ways from BJP, it will most likely support Congress as Third Front cannot emerge, whereas RJD, too, will continue to back UPA.

Claiming that only Congress can provide a strong and stable government at the Centre even in future, Das said that there are internal “contradictions and confrontations” within the Opposition and they do not seem to be in a position to provide an alternative to Congress.

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