India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrives to attend the opening of a grand temple to Lord Ram in Ayodhya, India, January 22, 2024 Image Credit: ANI

In India, Nitish Kumar, Chief Minister (CM) of Bihar and leader of the Janata Dal United, is at odds with Lalu Prasad Yadav, founder of Rashtriya Janata Dal and father of Kumar’s deputy, Tejaswi Yadav.

Yadav wants Kumar to step aside as make way for his son and to hold the Bihar assembly elections at the same time as the general elections will be held in April 2024 this year. The Bihar assembly election is scheduled to be held in winter next year.

The reason all these political moves are of interest is that they represent the Indian opposition’s power urge before any other imperative, even ideology. The only thing that currently animates the Indian opposition is to find a way to get into office. And, the Indian voter astute as she is knows that. Kumar’s predicament today is entirely of his own making.

Mocked by the moniker of “Kursi Kumar” because of his single-minded pursuit of the chair, he’s come a long way from the time he was referred to as “Sushasan Babu” (good administrator).

Kumar today stands isolated with no political player trusting that he won’t flip back into the BJP camp if they offer him power again after his repeated political footsie with the BJP.

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Contrast Kumar’s single-minded pursuit of the chair with former BJP Madhya Pradesh CM, Shivraj Singh Chauhan, who after winning a totally written off election was denied a shot at being CM again. Chauhan stepped aside without a word and made way for his successor, the little-known Mohan Yadav.

Chauhan made only two comments. The first that he would continue to be “MP’s mamajee (uncle), which is what he was popularly addressed as and the second “mera toh Raj Abhishek hohney wala tha, lekin vanwas milgaya” (I was preparing for a coronation but, was told to go into exile).

Vasundhara Raje Scindia former Rajasthan CM, and the tallest BJP leader in the state also stepped aside without a murmur when she was overlooked for the top job in favour of Bhajan Lal Sharma.

Scindia had been portrayed as a leader at odds with the BJP’s two supreme leaders, Prime Minister, Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, Home Minister of India yet so far Scindia has not said a word about being overlooked and virtually the effective end of her political career.

Chauhan and Scindia both exemplify ideology and party discipline, something the Indian voter observes as she observes the unedifying and endless squabbling of the opposition.

How can the opposition INDIA alliance claim to be a viable alternative for governing India when they can’t even do a basic seat share agreement? If the opposition had gotten its act together and decided on a single strong opposition candidate versus the BJP rival in every Lok Sabha seat, it would have made for a formidable challenge.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar Image Credit: ANI

Pan-national political footprint

But, they are unable to even do this despite, an existential crisis, telling you a lot about these leaders. Without winning anything without even properly being in the fray, the INDIA alliance can’t even come up with a leader who can face off against Modi.

Kumar had earlier sensed a vacuum for a kingmaker’s role in the INDIA alliance and travelled all over the country to have highly publicised meetings with other opposition leaders.

Unfortunately for him, the opposition leaders, sensing his political ambitions to be another Harkishan Singh Surjeet, the late Left-wing leader who had stitched together the Deve Gowda and IK Gujral governments, refused him the role.

Angry Kumar then did what he’s known for: started backchannel talks with the BJP. Kumar, who only has a tiny vote share for himself in Bihar, has always cannily piggybacked to power on the vote share of Yadav and the BJP. This time around, both the political grouping in Bihar and outside have seen through him. And, hence his predicament as he sees his political career evaporate before his eyes.

The voter is wary of the unedifying spectacle of the endless jockeying for political capital of the opposition leaders. The country’s oldest political party, the Congress, is displaying no urgency to get the opposition and its act together. The political imperative is that no opposition can be a challenge without the pan-national political footprint of the Congress as the fulcrum of opposition unity.

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Modi will be back

Yet under Rahul Gandhi, who’s the party’s real leader, the Congress is not driven by any sense of purpose to put up a real fight against the BJP. Despite having lost two general elections to Modi, Gandhi has barely faced any political consequences in his family-driven party.

Those who didn’t appreciate this laid-back approach to politics have headed for the exit, convinced that the Congress wouldn’t change any of its ways under Gandhi.

Gandhi appears to be animated by the conviction that he can sit out Modi’s era in politics, and then the crown will be his for the asking. What this reveals about his political thinking is something I don’t need to explain to our readers.

Clearly neither his own party leaders leaving the Congress in droves and neither other opposition party leaders are buying in to let the Modi phenomena exhaust itself. If, as widely expected, Modi gets a historic third term, India and its polity would have changed dramatically, with no room for a fifth-generation dynast.

Perhaps because he’s a dynast, Gandhi has so little political hunger. So currently the opposition in India lacks a coherent ideology, a charismatic face against Modi, or even a sense of political urgency to defeat Modi. Having ticked all these unedifying boxes, they will face defeat. Trouble is even after serial defeats they don’t learn anything.

SWAT Analysis prediction — Modi will be back in May this year in the PMO office in South Block.