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Nitish Kumar's Growing Impatience with Congress as 2019 PM Race Nears

Bihar was the last frontier in the Hindi heartland which remained out of the BJP’s grasp even at the peak of the Ram Temple movement.

Sumit Pande | CNN-News18

Updated:July 3, 2017, 3:02 PM IST
Nitish Kumar's Growing Impatience with Congress as 2019 PM Race Nears
Nitish Kumar joined hands with the BJP and took oath as Bihar Chief Minister.

New Delhi: Bihar was the last frontier in the Hindi heartland which remained out of the BJP’s grasp even at the peak of the Ram Temple movement. Mostly because OBC champion Lalu Yadav remained well-entrenched in his pocket borough through the 90s and early part of the next decade.

That was when the feeling grew within the BJP that without naming a CM candidate and an alternative face to the RJD in Bihar, it would be difficult for the Samata Party-BJP alliance to make any breakthrough. The BJP was more than willing to concede the space to its junior alliance partner. The problem, however, was within the Samata Party.

Party president and veteran socialist George Fernandes wanted his protégé and Samata Party co-founder Digvijaya Singh to be the CM face. After a prolonged tug-of-war, LK Advani during the Bihar campaign announced the BJP’s support for Nitish Kumar. The rest is history.

In 2017, almost a decade-and-a-half later, it seems Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar would want the Congress party to make that difficult choice the BJP made without much fuss.

For the record, the JD(U) president has repeatedly maintained that he is not in contention for the PM’s post — he has even called JD(U) a small party with its own limitations. But then, in politics, leaders don’t seek posts or nominations. The demand must come from outside. And heeding to those voices, leaders dedicate themselves to a larger cause.

Power is sought through sacrifice. Such has been the template of Indian politics.

For the four-time Bihar CM and former Union railways minister, there is only one pedestal to aim for in national politics. That opportunity would present itself in 2019, and with the opposition in disarray, he emerges an obvious choice.

He’s from the Hindi heartland. He comes from a backward community. He has got impeccable administrative credentials as the chief minister of Bihar. And all along, he has maintained a centrist line even when the Congress seemed to be going on a reactionary trajectory.

In the last six months, his party has also made attempts to reach out to the Congress and lay the foundation for a national alliance. In Delhi, Punjab and Bihar, sources say, he was willing to canvas in support of the Congress if his party was accommodated in these states.

But Congress is not BJP. It’s a hard bargainer. Look at what they did to the Samajwadi Party in UP — extracted 105 seats out of Akhilesh Yadav’s party when probably they did not have as many serious candidates.

In the past, the Congress, even when it has struck a pre-poll alliance for general elections, has pledged support to a non-Congress leader as PM candidate. In fact, it has never even named its own PM candidate in the past. Any support to a non-Congress leader has been post-poll, and out of political compulsion.

At the same time, never has the Congress been in such bad shape in the past. And never has the Congress faced such a mighty adversary holding power at the Centre.

The JD(U)’s expectations emanate from altered ground realties in the national politics. And with less than two years left for the polls, Nitish Kumar would obviously feel that time is running out.

Congress’s ineffectual attempt at mobilising support on the farmer’s agitation and against beef lynching is making the JD(U) and even some other allies impatient.

For Nitish, the issue here is not the survival of the Bihar government. It is the leadership issue for 2019 elections. And, in the last one month, the Bihar CM, it seems, has put his point across to the Congress.

He will wait for another six to 12 months before making a choice.

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| Edited by: Nitya Thirumalai
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