OPINION | Can Nitish Kumar unite all opposition parties?
Janata Dal (United) chief and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar are meeting opposition leaders of all hues in his efforts to bring about unity among all non-BJP parties, with an eye on the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
On August 31, Telangana Rashtra Samiti chief and Telangana CM K. Chandrashekhar Rao met Nitish Kumar in Patna to discuss ways and means to forge opposition unity. There were media reports that the talks failed to make headway after KCR insisted on keeping the Congress out of any front, while Nitish Kumar insisted that there cannot be opposition unity without the inclusion of Congress and Left parties.
At the joint press conference in Patna, their body language was easily discernible. Nitish Kumar stood up to leave when reporters asked questions about the probable PM candidate. KCR persuaded Nitish Kumar several times saying ‘Baithiye’, while Nitish refused to take the questions, and persuaded KCR to leave, by telling him ‘Chaliye’.
On Monday, Nitish Kumar met RJD supremo Lalu Prasad Yadav in Patna to seek his advice, before emplaning for New Delhi. He called on the ailing RJD leader, who is staying in the official residence of his wife Rabri Devi. Reports said, Lalu Prasad, explained to Nitish Kumar the nitty-gritties of how to tackle obstacles in the path of opposition unity. Lalu’s son and deputy CM Tejashwi Yadav were present at the meeting. Asked by reporters about the talks, Nitish Kumar evaded and said, “Lalu ji is like my elder brother. I had come to seek his blessings. Both of us have the same thoughts.”
What Nitish Kumar declined to reveal, was spelt out by his deputy CM Tejashwi Yadav. He said, “Nitish Kumar has been assigned to mobilize all opposition parties. If all opposition parties unite, the 2024 elections will be tough for BJP.”
In Delhi, Nitish Kumar met Congress leader Rahul Gandhi for one hour at the latter’s residence. Later, speaking to reporters, Nitish Kumar emphatically said, “I have no intention of pitching myself as the prime ministerial candidate. BJP is trying to weaken regional parties and my effort is to unite opposition parties before the general elections.”
Asked by a reporter whether he would agree to become the PM candidate if all the parties agree on his name, Nitish Kumar was non-committal. He said, “I have not thought about it. I only think about myself”. This remark has kept the field open for different interpretations.
Nitish Kumar on Monday also met Janata Dal (Secular) chief H.D.Kumaraswamy and discussed efforts for opposition unity. It may be recalled that Kumaraswamy, after the fall of his government in Karnataka, had broken his alliance with Congress in the state.
On Tuesday, Nitish Kumar met CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury and CPI leader D. Raja. Asked by reporters about the prime ministerial candidate, Nitish Kumar again said, “I am not even the claimant (for PM candidature). I don’t even desire it….Our entire focus is to unite all regional parties, the Left parties and the Congress. It can be a big development if all these parties come together.”
Nitish Kumar’s meetings with opposition leaders have raised some hopes among the Left leaders. On Monday, Yechury said, “Nitish Kumar has admitted that he made a mistake by aligning with the BJP. Opposition parties will surely welcome him back. As far as the question of PM candidature is concerned, Nitish Kumar has all the qualities to become the PM, but this is not the time to discuss the such an issue.”
Nitish Kumar, on Sunday, had publicly admitted in his party's national executive that he made a big mistake in aligning with BJP in 2017. “I will not make this mistake again”. The same day, former Bihar deputy CM and BJP leader Sushil Modi replied, by saying “Nitish Kumar has admitted his mistakes several times in the past. In 2013 too, he admitted his mistake in aligning with BJP. In 2017, he had publicly vowed never to align with RJD again, and now he is saying again, that he made a mistake by aligning with BJP. That is why Lalu Yadav gave him the title ‘Palturam’ ”.
On Tuesday, Nitish Kumar called on Delhi CM and Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal. He will also meet Nationalist Congress Party supremo Sharad Pawar, Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav and INLD party chief Om Prakash Chautala to discuss ways and means for achieving opposition unity.
Overall, I find, that there is not a single opposition leader who is staking a claim to the post of PM. Almost all of them have been saying in public that they have no such intention. Nitish Kumar, Rahul Gandhi, Arvind Kejriwal, KCR and Mamata Banerjee have also been saying that they have no intention of becoming PM. But the ground reality is that the fight is over the PM’s chair. All the discussions become futile when the issue of candidature for PM crops up. In the past, there had been several efforts to unite the opposition against Narendra Modi.
As far as Nitish Kumar is concerned, several top leaders of both RJD and JD(U) have disclosed that Lalu Prasad agreed to support Nitish for the post of Bihar CM, only on the condition that the latter will remain chief minister for now, and before the 2024 general elections, Nitish Kumar should involve himself in national politics, and leave the chief minister’s throne for Tejashwi Yadav. This is the reason, why Nitish Kumar is desperately trying to persuade opposition parties of all hues to form an anti-Modi front. Nitish has already started preparations for the 2024 elections.
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