Nitish as PM Face: If Not King, At Least Kingmaker

Soroor Ahmed examines the political possibilities at the national level after the formal breakup of JD(U)-BJP alliance in Bihar, and concludes that Nitish Kumar may not be the PM face of opposition parties in 2024 yet he can certainly emerge as a kingmaker.

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Soroor Ahmed

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Soroor Ahmed examines the political possibilities at the national level after the formal breakup of JD(U)-BJP alliance in Bihar, and concludes that Nitish Kumar may not be the PM face of opposition parties in 2024 yet he can certainly emerge as a kingmaker.

None can say as to who will emerge as the prime ministerial candidate of the opposition parties in 2024. But one can certainly predict as to who will become the kingmaker. On this count the name of Grand Alliance-II chief minister of Bihar, Nitish Kumar, is surely among the top.

Notwithstanding all the demerits and weaknesses of the Indian National Congress, one cannot overlook the fact that it is only pan-India party in the opposition camp. It still has personalities like Manmohan Singh, P Chidambaram, Shashi Tharoor, Jairam Ramesh, etc. in its rank.

It is also an undeniable fact that many ‘balancers’ in the media – not just the diehard supporters of the BJP – are often over-critical of Rahul Gandhi. The latter has in the last over eight years hardly got a word of praise from any section of the public opinionmakers, when the truth is that he is still, in many aspects, head and shoulder above leaders of many other parties. Just because Congress MLAs, under pressure or whatever other reasons, etc. – have crossed over to join the BJP in different states, it does not mean that Rahul does not have any talent.

His party emerged victorious in three very significant states – Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh – in 2018 and formed government in alliance with Janata Dal (Secular) in Karnataka. It is another thing that the BJP then played a dirty game. In Gujarat too Congress pushed the BJP to the wall in December 2017 poll though PM Modi and home minister Amit Shah extensively campaigned in their home turf.

Rahul is still speaking out even though under intense pressure from the central government agencies. Compare this with the performance of West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who rushed to Delhi to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi just a few days after one of her ministers was caught in an alleged scam.

Not only that her party, Trinamool Congress, decided to stay away from the Vice Presidential election on the plea that she was not taken into confidence before the announcement of the name of Congress leader Margaret Alva. This was so notwithstanding the fact that her tussle with Jagdeep Dhankar is a well-known fact.

The excuse cited by her party convinced no one. The Congress had not hesitated in backing TMC leader Yashwant Sinha as the Presidential candidate, though it was a known fact that he was bound to lose.

There is a general perception in independent circle that if she is really in the race for prime ministerial candidate, she should not behave so sheepishly.

No doubt TMC may once again sweep West Bengal in 2024 Lok Sabha poll. But this does not mean that Mamata should automatically emerge as the PM face of the opposition.

The problem with her is that she is still busy in confronting the Left parties and Congress when the truth is that both the parties failed to open their account in the last year’s Assembly election, though they fought jointly. This obsession of Mamata against the secular opposition in West Bengal is harming her more than anyone else.

If Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad has not yielded his ground though he had to undergo so much hardship and Sanjay Raut of Shiv Sena is facing the music of Enforcement Directorate, why is it that Mamata is so fearful. Getting rid of and distancing herself from former education minister Partha Chatterjee is one thing, but rushing to Modi for one meet has sent a totally different signal. In contrast, Nitish Kumar though a partner of the BJP-led NDA till August 9, had hardly called on Modi in Delhi in last so many months.

It may be that Nitish made a homecoming to NDA in July 2017 after the name of Lalu Yadav family figured in alleged IRCTC scam. But five years later Nitish managed to muster courage and openly decided to dare the BJP top brass, come what may. His new deputy, Tejashwi Prasad Yadav too has extended open invitation to the central agencies.

In Delhi, chief minister Arvind Kejriwal is resisting all efforts to demoralise Aam Aadmi Party before the Gujarat election. His minister Satyendra Jain is in jail yet he has not sacked him.

The other chief minister, who is dreaming to become Prime Minister is K Chandrashekar Rao of Telangana. But the problem with him is that he is the chief minister of a relatively small state with fewer number of MPs. He too has antagonised the Congress party too much, though it is the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is spreading its base there.

Rahul Gandhi may not at present be the best man for the top post, yet what Mamata, Chandrashekar Rao and even Kejriwal is unable to understand is that Congress Party is still in a position to give fight in 150 seats of Kerala, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Haryana, Punjab, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Assam, etc.

Besides, it is in alliance with strong regional players such as DMK, Nationalist Congress Party and Shiv Sena as well as RJD, JD(U) and Left parties. What is significant is that the Grand Old Party had joined hands with the Left in West Bengal in 2021 notwithstanding the fact that in Kerala the two parties contested against each other. The other good part in favour of Congress is that it has workable relationship with several smaller parties.

In contrast Mamata and Chandrashekhar Rao want to finish all the opponents. There is no problem if Trinamool Congress is trying to expand its base in North East where the social and political scenario is somewhat similar to that in West Bengal, but its decision to put up candidates in Goa where it has absolutely no base was hardly justifiable. It was meant to harm Congress and the party succeeded.

What Mamata is not understanding is the gesture of Rahul Gandhi, who in the last Assembly poll in West Bengal hardly campaigned though his party was fighting from there. He came just once and addressed a rally in North Bengal.

Contrary to the position of Mamata, Arvind Kejriwal and Chandrashekhar Rao, who are all more interested in expanding the base of their respective parties, rather than opposition unity, Nitish, combined with Lalu, has vowed to work for the ouster of the present government in the Centre.

The two are now busy building bridges with different parties, rather than expanding the base of JD(U) and RJD in far off states. Apart from 40 Lok Sabha seats in Bihar, the coming together of the two may play an important role in Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh, where there is palpable population of Kurmis and Koeris or Kushwahas.

Nitish, along with Lalu, knows his limitations. He may not be the PM face in 2024, as many of his supporters want, yet he can certainly emerge as a kingmaker – a role Lalu played in 1996 and 2004.