Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who has been nursing ambition to emerge as the Opposition’s face of 2024 Lok Sabha elections with Congress support, may have to recalibrate his strategy in view of the disqualification of Rahul Gandhi as Lok Sabha MP following his conviction in a defamation case.
Nitish is of the firm opinion that the Congress is the fulcrum of the Opposition unity and without it being in the lead role, the Opposition could not pose a major challenge to the BJP in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. He also rejects any idea of a Third Front, emphasising that there should be only the main front, including the Congress.
Nitish had met Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, various regional satraps and leaders of Left parties after forming a new government with the RJD-led grand alliance last August. But with Rahul losing his Lok Sabha membership after a Surat court sentenced him to two years in jail in a 2019 defamation case, the Congress is likely to take its own time before it starts making serious efforts to forge broader Opposition unity, commented Indrajit Singh, a political analyst.
Also read: Nitish: United opposition with Cong can limit BJP to less than 100 seats in 2024
Nitish has time and again requested Congress to come forward to bring all the Opposition parties on a single platform ahead of the 2024 LS polls, but so far, the Grand Old Party has not “adequately” responded to his calls.
Nitish had reiterated his call in the presence of senior Congress leader Salman Khurshid during the latter’s visit to the state in February. Khurshid had also reciprocated by contending that he would advocate on Nitish’s behalf in his party. However, his party colleague Jairam Ramesh retorted by saying, “nobody needs to give us a certificate that we have to lead because any Opposition unity without the Congress will not succeed”.
Last Wednesday, Nitish once again appealed to Congress to work for the broader Opposition unity. His remark that he is waiting for a response from the Congress after his two rounds of meetings with the Opposition leaders only shows that he wants more clarity on the issue of Opposition unity.
Nitish’s talks about Opposition unity ahead of the 2024 poll battle also fuelled speculation about whether there was any deal between RJD chief Lalu Prasad and him.
Also read: With eye on 2024, Nitish struggles to retain ‘Sushasan Babu’ image
Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav’s remark in the Assembly that neither he is in any hurry to become chief minister nor Nitish Kumar is in the PM race has created a flutter in political circles. His remark is seen as Tejashwi’s attempt to silence the BJP and leaders like Upendra Kushwaha who had claimed that there was a deal between the regional satraps before formation of the RJD-led grand alliance government in the state.
They alleged that Lalu and Nitish had struck a deal under which the latter would quit his CM post and hand over the charge to Tejashwi. Lalu, in turn, will make an attempt for Nitish to become the Opposition’s PM face.
Political analyst Praveen Bagi said Tejashwi’s statement in the Assembly only showed his frustration over the CBI and ED action against him and his family members in the land-for-jobs scam as it adversely impacted his chance of becoming the CM.
Also read: Amit Shah targets Nitish at rally in Bihar; says BJP’s doors forever shut for JD(U) chief
Flip-flop causing woes
Nitish snapped ties with his old ally BJP for the second time last August with an aim to do “something big” in national politics before he retires from active politics. But his political flip-flops apparently fail to inspire confidence among the Opposition leaders.
“It is a fact that Nitish is serving his last term as the chief minister of Bihar and he is also not going to become a Union minister in future. In such a situation, he has charted out a bigger role for himself,” commented political analyst Pushya Mitra. But the situation is not evolving as he may have liked, he added.
Mitra said the Opposition parties, whether from north or south, are not able to put their full faith in Nitish in view of his political flip-flops. Nitish’s JDU had recently not signed a letter sent to Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the alleged misuse of central agencies against the Opposition leaders.
Mitra said there is a lot of confusion in the Opposition camp at present and Nitish is biding his time before a clear picture emerges. Nitish’s future role in national politics depends largely on the Congress’ stand on the Opposition unity, he added.
Bagi said that Nitish failed to emerge as a strong face among the Opposition parties due to his political somersaults. He said there are already talks about a third front, comprising anti-BJP and anti-Congress forces, complicating the situation further.
“Let us see what Nitish does once the Bihar assembly’s Budget Session gets over as he had earlier said that he will visit various states to meet the Opposition leaders,” he added.
Also read: RJD thrilled, JD(U) miffed with Nitish plan for Tejashwi as 2025 CM face
Reuniting Janata Parivar?
Political analyst Kamal Kant Sahay said Nitish was not as uncomfortable with BJP as it was projected by him. He said Nitish, guided by his PM ambition, snapped ties with BJP, though he claimed that he did so as the saffron party tried to weaken his JDU through LJP (Ram Vilas) president Chirag Paswan and former Union minister RCP Singh. Nitish was hopeful of establishing himself as a strong challenger to Prime Minister Naraendra Modi with the support of RJD chief Lalu Prasad.
Lalu is known for his good rapport with various Opposition leaders, including former Congress president Sonia Gandhi, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav. Along with this, Nitish was also confident of making a mark in national politics and emerging as the Opposition’s face for the 2024 polls in view of his good equations with leaders like Sharad Pawar, MK Stalin, Uddhav Thackrey and Naveen Patnaik.
Sahay said that Nitish even tried initially for the merger of various constituents of Janata Parivar, a task which remained unfinished in 2015, but any talk of merger between JDU and RJD was taken by senior JDU leaders with a pinch of salt. Nitish had even declared that Tejashwi would lead the grand alliance in 2025. It infuriated former union minister Upendra Kushwaha so much that he left the party.
With the formation of a new political outfit following the merger of JDU and RJD, Nitish could have more number of Lok Sabha seats in his kitty, making his claim for the post of PM after the Lok Sabha election stronger in the event of Opposition crossing the majority mark, Sahay added.
BJP eyes Kushwaha vote
Meanwhile, the BJP has stepped up efforts to strengthen its organisation to take on the RJD-led grand alliance in the state confidently.
The BJP has not only appointed firebrand party leader Samrat Choudhary, known for his anti-Nitish rhetoric, as its state unit president but has also sent Sunil Ojha, considered close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as the co-in charge of Bihar BJP.
Also read: ‘Least bothered’: Bihar CM Nitish on Kushwaha’s exit from JD(U)
BJP has also changed the presidents of 27 out of its 45 organisational districts in the state. The saffron party has given maximum representation to EBC, considered as the strong support base of Nitish, in the organisational rejig. Bihar BJP in-charge Vinod Tawde is also focusing on strengthening the party organisation at the ground level.
The BJP is trying to make a dent into the Kushwaha vote bank by celebrating the birth anniversary of Samrat Ashoka, as Kushwaha caste which is the second largest OBC caste after Yadav, claims that they are direct descendants of the Mauryas. Ashoka was the grandson of Maurya dynasty founder Chandragupta.
BJP has already tried to win the support of Kushwaha by appointing Choudhary as the state party president. His father Shakuni Choudhary was once a prominent Kushwaha face of the state.
Similarly, it is widely speculated that former Union minister Upendra Kushwaha will also join hands with BJP for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.