Article120.pngBihar chief minister Nitish Kumar making a bid for the Prime Ministership of the country has rattled the Congress party. The wily politician has underlined the the need for all non-BJP parties coming together for defeating the Lotus party in the 2019 general elections. On its part the busy bodies in the 130-year-old party want to know if Kumar visualises any role for their heir apparent and Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi who has failed to infuse confidence in the rank and file or catch the imagination of the people.
Unity among non-BJP parties
Having called for a “”Sangh Mukt Bharat”” akin to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “”Congress Mukt Bharat”” and realising the futility of such slogans, the wily Kumar changed tack within 48 hours emphasising that without all the non-BJP parties joining hands it will be difficult to beat the saffron brigade. RJD supremo Lalu Prasad Yadav wasted no time in backing Kumar for the top executive job in the country. In some ways he is trying to get even with the Congress for forcing him to join the Mahagatbandhan along with accepting Kumar’s leadership in Bihar resulting in BJP’s defeat in last year’s assembly elections in the state.
Kumar, who took over as the JD (U) president recently, has already got cracking on his ambitious plan of trying to merge parties beginning with Ajit Singh’s RLD, who has listed his conditions, and Babulal Marandi’s JVM. He has also announced taking his prohibition drive to other states as well.
Imponderables in Nitish’s PM ambitions
There are imponderables galore in Kumar’s Prime Ministerial ambitions. For one it is bound to come into conflict with the aspirations of Congress vice-president and heir apparent Rahul Gandhi. There can be any number of permutation and combinations in case the Congress emerges as the single largest entity among all the non-BJP parties which appears to be remote. In such a case, it is bound to pitch for the Prime Minister’s job. The Congress has already expressed its reservations emphasising that a grand alliance for defeating the BJP works in the states but not at the centre.
Simultaneously, former BJP Deputy Chief minister Sushil Mody exhorted Kumar to move to national politics as “”governance has suffered and crime has surged in the Bihar.”” In the event of Kumar’s departure from Bihar, Lalu envisions a God sent opportunity for one of his two sons becoming the chief minister in Patna. His younger son Tejasvi is currently the Deputy Chief minister in Kumar’s cabinet and has won praise for focussing on development.
There is suspicion that Kumar is probably toying with the old idea of a non-Congress, non-BJP Front which has remained a non-starter all along. He believes that the BJP is anyway losing the general elections three years hence. That is where he visualises his chances of occupying the seat of power on the majestic Raisina Hill in the national capital. Can the two poles of the BJP and Congress be brushed aside in heading coalition governments at the centre? Evidently Kumar thinks so. It is no secret that the Congress is in the dumps with its lowest ever tally of 44 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha in the 2014 general elections. It failed to secure even one third of the strength of the Lower House of Parliament for being made the leader of the opposition.
It will, however, be naive on anybody’s part to see the back of the Congress party overnight having been in the vanguard of the freedom struggle. Its leadership is clueless in getting its act together. Except for the odd noises by Rahul Gandhi here and there, it seems to be in a slumber.
On the other hand the RSS as the mentor of the BJP which has been banned twice since Independence, is firmly entrenched at its headquarters in Nagpur. The chances of this “”cultural organisation”” as characterised by former Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani, being proscribed again is ruled out. Kumar has the onerous task of bringing together all those opposed to the BJP. The Janata experiment after the emergency was lifted in 1977 proved to be a disaster. The leaders of its constituents kept pulling in different directions and unabashedly pitched themselves forward as Prime Minister potential leading to its downfall. That attitude has not changed among the host of regional satraps who want their pound of flesh having carved out spheres of influence in their states.
Scenario in UP, Tamil Nadu
BSP supremo Mayawati believes she is in with a strong chance of winning the assembly elections in UP next year. It is unimaginable for the SP chief netaji Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati to come together. The situation is no different in West Bengal as far as the Left Front and chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s TMC are concerned. Then there are the arch rivals in AIADMK and DMK in Tamil Nadu and last but not the least the continuing rumblings in the ruling JD (U)-RJD combine in Bihar. Even at the best of times it is not easy having to contend with oversized egos of too many Prime Ministerial contenders floating around. Such a coalition is doomed even before it has any chance of taking off.
Having been associated with the BJP for 17 years, Kumar broke ranks in 2013 when Modi, who was then the chief minister of Gujarat, being declared the Lotus party’s Prime Ministerial nominee. With Modi assuming the high office on May 26, 2014, the RSS is determined the second time around to implement its three point Hindutva agenda of building a Ram temple at Ayodhya, abrogating Article 370 of the Constitution according special powers to J and K and having a Uniform Civil Code.
The real test for the BJP and and others opposed to it including the SP and BSP will be in the assembly elections in UP next year. It will be deleterious for the BJP if it loses the country’s most populous state in the cow belt with general elections 24 months later in 2019. It is already gearing up its loins for the assembly elections having appointed junior Union minister Keshav Prasad Maurya with strong Sangh moorings as the party president in UP which provides the maximum number of 80 seats in the Lok Sabha and 31 in the 250-member Rajya Sabha.
In the two years that Modi has been Prime Minister there have been brazen instances of intolerance particularly brutal attacks on the members of the minority community by the fringe elements of the Sangh Parivar. This has whipped up a fear psychosis.
BJP leaders have categorised these as law or order problems which is a state subject. Having been associated with the BJP for 17 years, Kumar broke ranks in 2013 when Modi, then chief minister of Gujarat was declared the Lotus party’s Prime Ministerial nominee. When Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee headed a 27-party coalition at the centre from 1998-2004, NDA (I) had adopted a Common Minimum Programme (CMP) shunning the Hindutva agenda.
After the 2014 general elections the BJP could have formed a government on its own as it enjoyed a majority for the first time but decided to continue with its allies thus enabling the NDA to cross the rubicon of 300 and reaching a healthy tally of 340 seats in the Lok Sabha.
The BJP is handicapped being in a minority in the Rajya Sabha and unable to pass crucial economic legislation required for boosting economic development. People are getting increasingly disenchanted with Modi as the much touted lyric “”acche din aane wale hai”” has remained a mirage so far.
The question is can the BJP match its 2014 performance in UP when it won a mind a boggling 71 seats out of 80 in the Lok Sabha. It finished with 73 seats with its allies winning two. Polarisation of votes was total. Lets wait and see if Kumar’s gambit works as politics is the art of the possible.
(T R Ramachandran is a senior journalist and commentator. Views expressed are personal.)“