Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is a man on a mission. Accompanied by his deputy and RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav, Kumar spent two days in the national capital earlier this month, taking the first formal steps in trying to bring opposition parties together to take on the Modi government in next year’s Lok Sabha polls.
He met Rahul Gandhi and Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, a meeting Rahul and Kharge both described as “historic”. But more importantly, Nitish is reaching out to those parties which are wary of the Congress and acting as a bridge.
A day after meeting the Congress leadership, Nitish met AAP’s Arvind Kejriwal who seems to be doing a rethink on working with the Congress as his party faces the wrath of government agencies like the ED.
After meeting Nitish, Kejriwal said it was important for the entire opposition to come together. There is no love lost between AAP and the Congress and this change of heart by Kejriwal is significant.
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Nitish is also reaching out to other important regional players that are rivals to the Congress- Mamata Banerjee, K Chandrashekhar Rao of the BRS and Akhilesh Yadav of the SP. All these leaders have publicly expressed their reservations about the Congress with Mamata even declaring she will fight 2024 alone.
But if Nitish has his way, then there could be a bigger meeting of opposition leaders in a few weeks . He is also speaking to Jagan Reddy of the YSRCP and the BJD’s Naveen Patnaik, both technically fence sitters but who have helped the BJP at crucial moments over the last 9 years.
Man on a mission
Nitish was among the first in the opposition camp to publicly state some months go that the Congress needed to take the lead in talking to other parties and that if the opposition seriously came together, the BJP could not cross 100 seats.
After his bitter split with the BJP last year, Nitish knows 2024 is a critical battle and fighting unitedly is the only way forward for the opposition. In his own state Bihar, that has been amply demonstrated with the formidable alliance of the JDU, RJD, Congress and Left.
In Maharashtra, the MVA of the Uddhav Shiv Sena, Congress and NCP are a force to reckon with. Nitish’s initiative may also have to do with his own prime ministerial ambitions though he publicly denies he has any.
But the road ahead is paved with many political landmines. The first is the inherent mistrust within the opposition camp. While the AAP came out strongly against Rahul Gandhi’s disqualification as an MP, the Congress has spoken in two voices on the CBI questioning of Arvind Kejriwal in the alleged liquor policy scam.
Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge called Kejriwal to express support but senior Congress leaders like Ajay Maken went public to say he didn’t deserve their support.
United we fight
Meanwhile, Sharad Pawar’s stand on the Adani issue and his defence of the industrialist in an interview to the Adani owned NDTV, has ruffled many feathers in the opposition camp. Even though Pawar later said he would support a parliament committee probe into the issue for the sake of opposition unity, most opposition leaders don’t know what game Pawar is playing.
There is intense speculation that the NCP may play ball with the BJP in Maharashtra. Or that his nephew Ajit Pawar could split the party and join hands with the BJP.
The NCP and Ajit Pawar himself deny this but never say never in Indian politics. A section of the NCP is said to be keen to support the BJP as some leaders, including Ajit Pawar, face the heat of agencies like the ED.
And who can forget the bitter sniping between the TMC and the Congress recently or the spat over Savarkar when Rahul Gandhi stirred a controversy over his comments with ally Uddhav Thackeray’s Shiv Sena criticising him. It took Pawar’s intervention to diffuse the situation.
As the CBI summons Kejriwal however, one thing is clear- only the ED and the CBI can meaningfully unite the opposition for 2024.
As leader after opposition leader faces probes and the possibility of jail, it’s a matter of their survival.