Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on Thursday said Janata Dal (United) national spokesperson Pavan Varma was free to leave the party, reported NDTV. This came days after Varma’s letters exposed a purported rift in the party over its support to the amended Citizenship Act.
“He can go and join any party he likes, my best wishes,” said Kumar. “To give this kind of statement...it is surprising. Is this a way to talk?” Kumar disapproved of the way Varma expressed his displeasure. “I told him certain things, should I tell you what he said to me?” he asked, according to News18. “I respect him... If he wants to go to some other party that is his decision... he has my blessings.”
After Kumar’s dare, Varma said it was never his intention to hurt the party president. “[I] welcome Nitish Kumar’s statement that there is space for discussion within party, as that is what I asked for,” he told ANI. “Was never my intention to hurt him. I want the party to have ideological clarity.” Varma added that he will decide his future course of action once he gets a reply to his letter from Kumar.
“I have not received a reply,” he said, according to PTI. “I will continue to speak what I believe is right, what is for the good of the country and the party.”
Earlier this month, Varma had written to Kumar to urge him to “take a principled stand” against the Citizenship Amendment Act, National Register of Citizens and National Population Register – each of which the BJP strongly supports. He had even reminded Kumar of his own “long-established secular vision” and asked him to make a clear public statement on the matter. On Tuesday, Varma wrote a second letter to the Bihar chief minister in which he said that Kumar’s decision to ally with the BJP in the upcoming Delhi election has “deeply perplexed” him. He claimed Kumar had continued to hold apprehensions against the BJP in private even after returning as an ally in Bihar in 2017.
The BJP has named candidates for 67 of the 70 Assembly seats in Delhi, and has decided to leave two seats for the JD(U) and one for the Lok Janshakti Party. Another ally, the Shiromani Akali Dal, on Monday said it would not contest the Delhi Assembly elections due to differences with the BJP on the Citizenship Amendment Act. Both the Akali Dal and JD(U) had voted in favour of the Citizenship Amendment Act in Parliament last month, but differences have emerged since then.
Varma said he had been told that Kumar believed the BJP was “destroying institutions”, and that there was “a need for democratic and socialist forces within the country to regroup”. “If these are your real views, I fail to understand how the JD(U) is now extending its alliance with the BJP beyond Bihar, when even long standing allies of the BJP, like the Akali Dal, have refused to do so,” Varma wondered.
Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) has been part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance since 1996, except for a four-year period from 2013 to 2017. During the period the party was out of the alliance, Kumar had publicly opposed the BJP’s Hindutva agenda. However, he returned to the NDA fold in 2017 to form a government in Bihar.