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Pushed to Corner by BJP, Why Nitish Kumar's 2024 Agenda May be Blocked by Rahul Gandhi's PM Desire

File photo of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. (PTI)

File photo of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. (PTI)

The major anxiety for the Congress is not that Narendra Modi returns to power in 2024 but that no other party substitutes Congress as the main pole against the BJP and no other leader like Nitish Kumar replaces Rahul Gandhi as the PM candidate.

Ashok Mishra

The year 2020 proved to be a tough year for Nitish Kumar who had to walk the tightrope after being pushed to the brink following poor performance of the Janata Dal (U) in the state assembly elections. It faced another jolt when six of its seven MLAs in Arunachal Pradesh switched allegiance to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) - its long-standing ally in Bihar and at the national level.

The party is still struggling to wriggle out of the threat of poaching of its legislators by the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), which has 75 legislators in the 243-member Bihar legislative assembly. The RJD-led Mahagathbandhan has altogether 110 MLAs, including 19 of Congress, 11 of CPI-ML, three of CPI-M and two of CPI. It needs the support of at least 12 more legislators to form the government.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has rubbished the claim of RJD leader and former minister Shyam Rajak as ‘baseless’ and ‘lacking any substance’ whereas the JD (U) termed it as a futile attempt by the opposition to destabilise the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in Bihar.

But the party looks forward to a bright future in 2021 and afterwards with a changed strategy as Kumar has quit the post of party’s national president and decided to take a plunge into the national politics either way - with or without the NDA. The Bihar chief minister has installed his trusted lieutenant RCP Singh as the party chief in a surprise move.

The defeat in the Bihar polls and the Arunachal Pradesh ignominy had its bearing on the party's changed political strategy. The move is definitely aimed at adopting a combative posture if the BJP pushes Kumar to the wall at the state and national level.

The JD(U) has decided to find its feet in other states and learn to live without the BJP. It may even sever the umbilical cord with the BJP as and when required in future and go alone in states where state assembly elections are due next year. It will be free to forge an alliance with any other political party which it thought proper to suit its avowed political and social agenda.

It will also strengthen the party with its secular image in states where other regional parties are weak or in tatters. Convinced that the Congress and other secular outfits have failed to depolarize the majority votes, the JD(U) is keen on moving ahead with its secular agenda.

The first rebellious stance of the JD(U) came when it decided to contest 75 seats in the West Bengal elections this year wherein the BJP is fighting a tough battle to trounce the Mamata Bannerjee government. After its stunning performance in the Lok Sabha elections last year, the BJP is trying to establish itself in West Bengal in the upcoming assembly polls.

The JD (U) has assessed its relative strength in different constituencies of the 294-member West Bengal assembly and identified 75 constituencies where it can contest elections on its own. The JD (U) is part of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) only in Bihar and has been contesting elections in other states in the past.

It also plans to contest the Assam election next year either on its own or as part of an alliance with the BJP or any other political party. In Assam, the JD (U) had contested the 2016 assembly election in alliance with the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF).

The JD (U) having units in 28 states has fought assembly polls in states like Karnataka and Gujarat without a tie-up with the BJP. It had contested the Jharkhand assembly polls last year separately but lost. However, the JD (U) fought the Delhi assembly polls earlier this year in alliance with the BJP.

In the BJP-ruled Arunachal Pradesh, the seven-member JD (U) legislature party was in opposition before the six rebels joined the BJP. The JD (U) now has just one MLA in the 60-member Arunachal Pradesh assembly. But the recent municipal corporation elections in Itanagar has come as a silver lining for the JD(U) which has won nine out of 20 seats while the BJP won 10 seats and one seat went to the NCP.

This is the first time since 2005 that the JD (U) is playing the second fiddle to the BJP in the NDA government in Bihar. It has so far been the senior partner in 2005, 2010 and 2017 when JD (U) and BJP joined hands again. The BJP has drafted two deputy chief ministers of its choice and maintains a big brother attitude in matters of governance.

It is an open secret that Kumar has been nourishing the ambition of becoming the Prime Minister since 2014. The JD (U) plans to expand in other states and attempt a unity at the national level on the belief that Kunar is the most acceptable face in the country and the only political personality who can challenge the might and stature of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

But Nitish is well aware of the obstacles posed by the Congress and the RJD as his past experience has been quite bitter. The Congress is still adamant on projecting Rahul Gandhi as the prime ministerial candidate. The major anxiety for the Congress is not that Narendra Modi returns to power in 2024 but that no other party substitutes Congress as the main pole against the BJP and no other leader like Nitish Kumar replaces Rahul Gandhi as the PM candidate.

Remarkably, the RJD supremo Lalu Prasad also does not want Kumar to join hands with Sonia Gandhi because the JD (U) leader can replace him in the Sonia camp. The Congress too needs RJD more than the JD (U) because the convicted Lalu Prasad has no prime ministerial ambition and is no threat to Rahul Gandhi.

Actually, the Congress wants Kumar to stay in the lap of the BJP and PM Modi as Rahul Gandhi does not want opposition unity at the cost of allowing other national or regional leaders to overshadow his persona. Rahul Gandhi will also not let the national opposition space be occupied by politicians smarter than him. If Kumar is neutralised today, it is only to Congress’s long-term advantage.

Disclaimer:The author is a senior journalist. Views expressed are personal.


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