Those going gaga over the prospects of opposition unity building up around Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar should hold their horses – it’s too early to conclude that these disparate forces can form a robust alliance against the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance in the Lok Sabha polls scheduled for 2019.
A week after the Congress and non-NDA parties shared the stage at the swearing-in ceremony of the Grand Alliance government in Bihar, strains have come to the fore. Delhi chief minister. Arvind Kejriwal distanced himself from the tight hug he got from Rashtriya Janata Dal head Lalu Prasad at the event.
The Aam Aadmi Party leader who campaigns against corruption not only blamed Prasad for the embrace but also expressed displeasure at his dynasty politics – making younger son Tejaswi the deputy CM and the other, Tej Pratap, the health minister. A swearing-in ceremony is akin to a social event where leaders across party and ideological divides come together and ties can be tenuous.
In the not-too-distant past, BJP leader Amit Shah – when he was not yet party president – led Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav by the hand to one of the front seats at the NDA swearing-in at Rashtrapati Bhavan. The regional parties that shared the dais at Nitish Kumar’s oath-taking ceremony are a disparate group and many of them have the Congress as their main opponent in the state where they are a potent force.
Some, such as the SP and the Bahujan Samaj Party, or the Trinamool Congress and the Left parties, don’t see eye to eye. BSP leader Mayawati made it clear that her party would not attend the November 20 swearing-in event in Patna, ensuring that there is no ambiguity about her party going it alone in the 2017 Uttar Pradesh elections. The SP backed out at the last moment, although initially, UP CM Akhilesh Yadav was to attend.
The Shiv Sena’s participation in the function – regardless of its strained relations with the BJP – does not mean it is ready for an electoral understanding with the Congress, its main opponent in Maharashtra. Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal will never be a part of an alliance that includes the Congress, its primary opponent in Odisha. Patnaik sent a congratulatory letter to Nitish Kumar and kept away from the swearing in.
Even the Congress and the Janata Dal (United) can only tread a certain distance. While Nitish may have higher credibility and gravitas than Rahul Gandhi as a challenger to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Congress would not want the Bihar CM to become the pivot of the opposition alliance. Arithmetic will outweigh all the credentials that Nitish Kumar enjoys.
At most, the Bihar CM can head a Third Front with outside support from the Congress, a scenario the grand old party would not be looking at as it prepares itself to do battle under Gandhi’s leadership in 2019.