Speculations about the BJP-JD(U) alliance in Bihar suffering yet another split were put to rest on Thursday with Union Home Minister Amit Shah stating that the NDA will contest the assembly polls next year under the leadership of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. Leaders of the JD(U), headed by Mr. Kumar, erupted in joy as snippets of an interview given to a news channel by Mr. Shah were beamed, capping weeks of bad blood between the two parties.“The gathbandhan (coalition) is atal (unshakeable). The NDA will contest assembly polls under the leadership of Nitish Kumar in Bihar. Nationally, it is Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who will continue to lead the coalition,” Mr. Shah was shown as having said in the interview, to be telecast later in the day.“An-ban (bickering) is a sign of a healthy coalition. But matbhed (difference of opinion) does not necessarily mean there is manbhed (mental rift),” Mr. Shah added. The statement may also came as a disappointment to the opposition Grand Alliance which had been expecting a break-up among the alliance partners in view of the fact that Mr. Kumar has served as the chief minister for three consecutive terms and the BJP — under the aggressive leadership of Mr. Modi and Mr. Shah — is planning to expand its footprints in Bihar.JD(U) national general secretary and state minister Shyam Rajak came out with a flurry of tweets thanking Mr. Shah.“I wish to thank the top leadership of BJP @AmitShah1 @narendramodi for having dispelled many doubts by speaking about fighting the next assembly polls under the leadership of @NitishKumar. It is a slap on the face of the opposition which was enjoying (the recent bickering),” he said.“Those wishing the disintegration of JD(U)-BJP alliance will disintegrate themselves since we have forged the coalition on an idea — that is to uplift 12 crore people of Bihar to which we have been devoted,” Mr. Rajak added. Disgruntled JD(U) leader Ajay Alok, who had, of late, become critical of his own party on a number of issues, also appeared sobered down as he tweeted, “Amit Shah’s statement would make the NDA rock solid and disappoint those who had other expectations. Only Nitish Kumar has the capability to further strengthen the NDA. Jai Bihar!” Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan, whose LJP is a junior partner in the Bihar NDA, seemed to have heaved a sigh of relief as he remarked in Samastipur — where he is canvassing for his nephew Prince Raj before the by-election — “We always said there is no confusion over leadership in the NDA.”“Please go and ask the opposition what they have to say about this since all their hopes have hinged on the possibility of our disunity.” The NDA had made a clean sweep in Bihar in the Lok Sabha polls earlier this year, winning 39 out of 40 seats. The BJP and the LJP won 17 and six seats respectively, while the JD(U) succeeded in bagging 16 out of 17 that it had fought. Among the opposition parties, only the Congress managed to win a seat while Lalu Prasad’s RJD — which has ruled the state for over a decade and still has the highest number of MLAs — drew a blank. Shortly after the NDA’s spectacular victory in the polls, the opposition sensed an opportunity when Mr. Kumar decided against having a party representative in the Union cabinet. Add to that, JD(U)’s opposition to the Narendra Modi government’s ambitious legislations like the triple talaq bill and the one on reorganization of Jammu and Kashmir further fueled speculations of the party’s growing unease with the BJP’s ideological hard line. RJD national vice-president Raghuvansh Prasad Singh had held out an olive branch to the JD(U) chief after the elections, urging him to return to the anti-BJP front which lacked a credible leadership.Mr. Singh has, however, been snubbed on this account by Lalu Prasad’s younger son and heir apparent Tejashwi Yadav, leaving the veteran leader sore. He said that he expects the 29-year-old to “realize the significance of what I am saying in six months”.Recently, outbursts of Union minister Giriraj Singh — known to share cold vibes with the Bihar Chief Minister over water-logging in Patna had also triggered a war of words between state-level leaders of the BJP and the JD(U).Mr. Kumar had, however, made it clear in one of his speeches “there is nothing amiss in the coalition and those trying to create mischief will be in trouble”.
India is lucky to have a “stable” captain like Mahendra Singh Dhoni, according to Pakistan’s ODI skipper Shahid Afridi who is still trying to play down his negative remarks against Indians that caused an uproar.”I thought Dhoni led the Indians very shrewdly and performed brilliantly in the final. India is lucky to have a stable captain like him,” Afridi told PTI in an interview.”He had a big role to play in the Indian victory and I am sure this victory means a lot for Indian cricket and their people. But I also hope the World Cup coming back to Asia will also boost the sport in this region again and normalise bilateral Indo-Pak cricket relations,” he said.Afridi acknowledged that India were the better side on that day and deserved to win the World Cup.”They were the better side and deserved to win the world cup. Any side that can beat us should win the World Cup,” he said.Afridi heaped praise on Indian batting icon Sachin Tendulkar, saying that his hunger for runs is amazing and he still has plenty to offer to Indian cricket.”His hunger for runs is amazing and only he can best decide what he wants to do in the future. But I can tell you this age is no bar to his success in either Tests or one-day internationals,” he said.Afridi said he did not have any words to describe the Indian maestro and disclosed that he has a framed jersey autographed by Tendulkar in his drawing room.advertisementThe Pakistan captain once again played down his negative remarks about Indian people that he made on a Pakistani television channel talk show that has caused an uproar in the neighboring country.”I have nothing against the Indian people and I have always enjoyed going to India as the people there appreciate and support good cricket and players,” Afridi said.”The remarks I made on the show have been misunderstood and taken out of context. My main emphasis was that sports should not be mixed with politics and there were some elements who didn’t want the people of the two countries to get closer,” Afridi clarified.”It is unfortunate whenever someone tries to bring politics into sport. This is unacceptable and will only lead to misunderstandings,” he said.Afridi’s remarks about the Indian media being negative about Indo-Pak relations and the Pakistani media being 100 times better have also caused a furore.”I don’t want to sound condescending but I have always wanted good relations between the two countries and I have in my own way tried to play a positive role,” he said.”Even when we returned from India after playing the world cup semifinal in Mohali I said that Pakistanis should not treat cricket matches with India as war as in other things we tend to have common interests,” Afridi noted.Afridi pointed out that there were some elements in the Indian media who created misunderstandings or demeaned Pakistanis.”Even when I said that Sachin Tendulkar would have to wait for his 100th century after the semifinal against us, my remarks were misinterpreted and played up negatively by some in the Indian media.”I admire Sachin Tendulkar for being one of the best role models for young cricketers and no one in Pakistan even doubts his greatness as his record speak for himself.”All I had meant was that being the captain of the opposing team, we would not allow Tendulkar to score runs or get a century against us which any opposing captain would say about an opposing batsman,” Afridi explained.The Pakistan captain said the national team had gone to India with the message of peace.”I think our conduct in the semifinal and during our stay in India is proof enough of our intentions. Pakistan has always been keen to have normal cricket relations with India,” he said.”I still say Pakistan and India should have normal bilateral relations in cricket and there should be regular exchanges between the two countries,” he added.Afridi explained that his remarks on the talk show were in response to a question about how the Indians were looking at the semifinal match result and about some people introducing politics into cricket with Pakistan.”There are positive people even in the Indian media but recently in India we as a team were sad over the way some sections of the Indian media did stories about us and how they portrayed us,” Afridi said.advertisementHe said because of these negative elements, Pakistani players remained out of the Indian Premier League.”When you play a cricket match with India, the intensity level is high but that is only on the field and it is unfortunate when a wrong colour is given to a match or relations between players.”Afridi said cricket can bring the two countries closer and it was a very positive gesture on part of the Indian Prime Minister to invite his Pakistani counterpart to Mohali for the match.”I know for a fact that Pakistanis who were in Mohali for the match enjoyed themselves thoroughly and were looked after well even though the disappointment of losing the semifinal was great,” he noted.