Nitish Kumar’s switch from grand alliance to NDA has jeopardized opposition unity but it has also put curtains on Prime Ministerial ambitions of the JDU national president
By Asit Manohar
In a high voltage political drama in Bihar, JDU swap its alliance partner in Bihar and jumped the NDA wagon junking grand alliance. Though political circle was abuzz with such move which Nitish has taken, neither RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav nor Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi could sneak such U-turn by Nitish Kumar who took oath as Bihar CM for sixth time on July 27th. This ‘Ghar Wapsi’ of Nitish indicates major jolt to the Congress bid to extend the Bihar like grand alliance in other states, especially in UP.
Nitish, who is known as one of the rare breed of politicians who have the courage to take political risks, grabbed the opportunity provided by both Congress and RJD on Tejashwi matter and resigned. Lalu might not ever admit, but he may have never dreamt even in the wildest of his dreams that Nitish would quit the government. And here, he faulted.
LALU RAHUL FAULT
Lalu Yadav and Rahul Gandhi never anticipated that Nitish Kumar would quit his government. He thought Nitish wouldn’t dare to disassociate himself from the Grand Alliance (Mahagathbandhan), because without the support of RJD and the Congress, it wasn’t possible for JDU to win the majority in the election. They thought Nitish Kumar won’t leave the secular camp, as he has been considered a leader with a national recall from the secular, non-BJP block, with an aspiration to become a national leader. Bihar Congress unit had briefed Rahul Gandhi that if Nitish quits, he would lose support of Yadavs and Muslims, which Lalu enjoys. They even told Rahul Gandhi that if Nitish resigns, he won’t be able to run the government without any of the Congress or RJD because BJP will play hard with Nitish before extending its support. As Nitish didn’t say anything against Tejashwi Yadav even after cases of corruption came up against the latter, both Lalu and Rahul Gandhi thought everything would get sorted once Tejashwi gave an explanation.
HIT ON OPPOSITION UNITY
But, in actual, there should have been another though by the Congress high command (read Sonia and Rahul) that they can’t leave the grand alliance (created by the hard work of Team Rahul) into the hands of Lalu Yadav as this experiment had stopped unstoppable Modi and Congress was planning to implement this experiment in UP in coming Phulpur Lok Sabha bi-elections (if Keshav Prasad Mourya resigns) by pitching BSP supremo Mayawati as joint opposition candidate. This exit of Nitish Kumar from the UPA camp has put a question mark over the leadership ability of Congress party in keeping the opposition camp intact. This had become visible when Nitish Kumar hailed the demonetization move taken by Modi government and later’s support to NDA candidate in the recently held presidential polls. At a time when the next Lok Sabha polls are mere one and half years away, one of the big leaders in the opposition camp leaving Congress sulking in its own den would certainly won’t boost the morale of its grass root workers. Now, the BJP would showcase that Congress can’t provide the kind of leadership to the opposition parties as it can.
The BJP high command and its grass root workers morale has gone to cloud nine after the ‘Ghar Wapsi’ of Nitish Kumar. Nitish has chosen a time of switch which speaks problems of plenty for the Congress party. It has very recently lost its Leader of Opposition in Gujarat Assembly, Shankersingh Vaghela, which has jeopardized the Rajya Sabha nomination of Ahmed Patel — political secretary to the Congress President Sonia Gandhi since 2001. Apart from this, Congress leadership had to face humiliation during Presidential Polls when its MLAs cross voted in favour of NDA candidate, which fizzled out grand old party’s central leadership’s claims that Goa government was running on ‘money and muscle’ power. Hence, on one hand, Congress party is losing leaders and allies while on the other hand, BJP is gaining strength day by day which can hit the Congress-Left bid to unite the opposition ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
However, if Congress has fallen into the risk zone Nitish too has fallen into the same zone. Whatever the new government completes its tenure or tumbles, Nitish and his attempt to convince various leaders of the opposition to name him as the face of the opposition for 2019 has not been a secret. His discomfort in ceding ground to the RJD in Bihar despite being the Chief Minister is no conspiracy theory either. The discomfort began as early as the first month of government formation in 2015 and BJP President Amit Shah gauged it before anyone else could.
Nitish Kumar announcing his resignation, Modi congratulating him withing minutes, the BJP offering support within an hour, and the new government forming barely 12 hours later with the BJP is not something Nitish decided on overnight. It was a decision in the making for the last eight months which entailed him supporting the BJP on demonetization, the election of President Kovind and more. Through all this, he was buying time to convince other parties and the Congress to name him as the opposition’s Prime Ministerial candidate for 2019.
RISK FOR NITISH
Before switching over from grand alliance to NDA, alas Nitish had sought an opinion from the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, he would have known that this is the BJP’s master tactic in not just eroding his popularity in Bihar but also at any national level. The only other opposition leader who came close to being a face of the opposition amongst regional leaders was Mamata Banerjee, who has been neutralized not just with the BJP’s increasing popularity in West Bengal, but also the Saradha and Narada scams. In Maharashtra, the BJP has stymied the Shiv Sena and the MNS to a junior role with the increasing possibility of an absolute majority in the 2019 state election.
For a politician as astute as Nitish Kumar, a better decision would have been the sacking of Tejashwi Yadav from the cabinet, which would have allowed him the upper hand, rather than aligning with a heavyweight like the BJP which will seek to stunt his growth once. Nitish has been an excellent manipulator of political situations and of his inner voice for over a decade, but if only he had given attention to the systematic decimation of regional parties by the BJP, he could well have had his cake and eaten it too. Indian politics is unpredictable and perhaps Nitish could turn out to be smarter than political pundits and journalists like us. But better sense tells us that Nitish may have scored a point for now, but has also just marked the beginning of the end of his career as a heavyweight in regional politics.
Hence, by aligning with BJP junking Congress-RJD grand alliance has not only written an epitaph of the grand alliance at the national level but also for Nitish’s Prime Ministerial ambitions.