Explained: Why Nitish Kumar Is So Desperate To Forge Opposition Unity

by Jaideep Mazumdar - Sep 13, 2022 06:03 PM +05:30 IST
Explained: Why Nitish Kumar Is So Desperate To Forge Opposition UnityBihar CM Nitish Kumar
Snapshot
  • The RJD wants to contest the 2025 Assembly polls with Tejaswi Yadav as the chief minister, says a JD(U) leader.

    Nitish Kumar seems to be convinced that he stands the best chance among all regional leaders to become the Prime Ministerial candidate. 

Bihar Chief Minister has been in the news over his frantic efforts to get all non-BJP parties under one umbrella to take on the saffron party in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. 

The reason: Kumar will have to give up his chief minister’s post by mid-2024. The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), with which Kumar joined hands after ditching the BJP in July this year, has made it clear to Kumar that he will have to make way for his deputy--Lalu Yadav’s son Tejaswi--by the middle of 2024. 

A senior RJD leader told Swarajya that this was one of the conditions laid down by his party while secret talks were on with Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United). “After initial hesitation, the JD(U) accepted this condition,” he said. 

This was confirmed by a JD(U) leader. “The RJD wants to contest the 2025 Assembly polls with Tejaswi Yadav as the chief minister. It wants Tejaswi to settle down in the chief minister’s post before that. 

Lalu Yadav clearly laid down the condition that he wants his son to be the chief minister for a few months and learn all the ropes,” the JD(U) leader told Swarajya. 

Once Nitish Kumar steps down from the chief minister’s post before or immediately after the Lok Sabha polls slated for April-May 2024, Tejaswi will get about 17 to 18 months as his successor before Assembly elections are held in Bihar in November-December 2025. 

Kumar will, thus, be jobless in Bihar about 18 months from now. And that is why he is busy trying to cobble a rag-tag coalition of regional parties in the hope that as a prime mover of this ‘unity’, he will become the Prime Ministerial candidate of such a coalition. 

The Bihar CM held detailed and very intensive discussions with his closest aides before agreeing to the RJD’s condition to step aside for his Deputy Tejaswi Yadav before or just after the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. 

A small coterie of these top aides reportedly convinced Kumar that a coalition of regional parties stands a good chance of limiting the BJP to half the number of Lok Sabha seats it won in 2019.

And such a coalition, with support from the Congress and the Left, will be in a good position to form the government at the federal level. 

Kumar was also convinced that he stands the best chance among all regional leaders to become the Prime Ministerial candidate. 

“Nitish Kumar is well-known at the national level, and has a clean image. He is known to be a good administrator who has handled Bihar very well as chief minister for so many years. He also performed very well as the Railway Minister,” said the JD(U) leader. 

Kumar’s primary rivals in the proposed coalition of regional parties are Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee, Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal and Telangana CM K Chandrasekhar Rao. 

“Mamata Banerjee has lost a lot of her sheen with arrests of her party leaders and ministers. She is seen as mercurial and unreliable, and is a poor administrator.

Kejriwal and Rao don’t have much of a pan-India status. Nitish Kumar is thus best placed to become the PM candidate of this coalition,” the JD(U) leader, who requested not to be named, told Swarajya. 

Another JD(U) leader who is a cabinet minister told Swarajya that NCP patriarch Sharad Pawar had indicated to Nitish Kumar when the two met last week that he (Pawar) would back Kumar as the proposed coalition’s PM candidate. 

Nitish Kumar is also trying to get similar commitments from other senior Opposition figures like Mulayam Singh Yadav and Shiromani Akali Dal’s Prakash Singh Badal. 

The Samajwadi Party patriarch (Mulayam) had indicated that he would be inclined to support Kumar’s candidature if the latter can cobble the anti-BJP front of regional parties. 

Kumar’s quest to become the Prime Minister also took him to the residence of former Haryana chief minister Om Prakash Chautala last week. 

Chautala lauded Kumar’s decision to break ties with the BJP, but has reportedly remained non-committal on supporting Kumar’s bid to become PM. Chautala reportedly told Kumar that it was important to forge opposition unity first. 

The Bihar CM’s meeting with Rahul Gandhi, say JD(U) leaders, was exploratory in nature.

“The two discussed various options and possibilities. Rahul said he will brief Sonia Gandhi, and Kumar should meet Sonia Gandhi after that,” said the Bihar Cabinet Minister. 

Nitish Kumar is banking on Lalu Yadav to elicit support from Sonia Gandhi. The RJD patriarch has a good and personal rapport with Sonia and Kumar hopes that Lalu Yadav will be able to convince Sonia Gandhi to support Kumar’s ascension to the PM’s post at an opportune time. 

Lalu Yadav would not hesitate to do that because it serves his interest: that of seeing his son as the Bihar CM.

Yadav has promised Nitish Kumar that he will do all in his power to not only convince Sonia Gandhi, but other opposition leaders as well, to make Kumar the PM in case the BJP fails to muster a majority in the Lok Sabha in 2024. 

But there is one Himalayan hitch in Kumar’s vaulting ambition. The BJP, even its strongest critics and opponents concede, is set to return to power for the third time in 2024. That will leave Kumar completely jobless and in political wilderness!

Also Read: Why Nitish Kumar’s Bid To Forge Opposition Unity And Position Himself As Prime Ministerial Candidate Is A Futile One

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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