Nitish Kumar to emerge as Opposition’s PM face

Deccan Chronicle.  | Sanjay Basak

Nation, Politics

Besides his 'clean image', the Opposition parties can also bank on Mr Kumar’s track record of 'good governance'

Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar interacts with the media after submitting his resignation to Bihar Governor Phagu Chauhan, outside Raj Bhavan in Patna, Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022. (PTI Photo)

New Delhi: The Opposition forces across India got a major shot in the arm with Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar snapping ties with the BJP on Tuesday.

With Trinamul Congress supremo and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee reeling under a cash scam scandal, Mr Kumar is all set to emerge as the Opposition’s “face” for the 2024 general election.

A CPI(M) leader claimed that, unlike Ms Banerjee, Mr Kumar has a “pan-India image”. While Ms Banerjee has been struggling to expand her influence outside West Bengal, after Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Mr Kumar “is the only leader who has the ability to influence” politics in the Hindi heartland. As for caste-based electoral politics, both Mr Kumar and Mr Modi belong to the OBC category. And even though he was an ally of the BJP, Mr Kumar has somehow managed to largely steer clear of Hindutva politics and has been soft on the minority community in Bihar. He apparently enjoys the support of Bihar’s Pasmanda Muslims as well.

Mr Kumar is also a major draw for the Opposition leaders because of his “clean image”. A JD(U) leader noted that Mr Kumar is “perhaps the only non-BJP leader with no corruption charges against him”.

It is also felt that, unlike Ms Banerjee, the JD(U) leader was a “more reliable ally” and acceptable to all the non-Congress and non-BJP outfits, particularly the Left parties. Therefore a “Mahagathbandhan” of the JD(U), RJD, Samajwadi Party and Left parties could counter the BJP’s politics of social engineering and muscular nationalism in the BJP’s key bastion -- the Hindi heartland, an Opposition leader felt.

Besides his “clean image”. The Opposition parties can also bank on Mr Kumar’s track record of “good governance”. In Bihar, Mr Kumar has gained a lot of popularity for ushering in “development” across the state and this may hold “currency” at the national level, a JD(U) leader observed.

It was also being felt that even though the BJP is the second largest party in the state, with 77 MLAs after RJD with 79 seats, it was Mr Kumar’s image which went on to “help” the NDA alliance during the 2020 Bihar Assembly elections. The JD(U) had managed to win only 45 Assembly seats.

Regardless of Mr Kumar’s recent disenchantment with the BJP, sources said that the JD(U) chief had “always been nurturing his ambition” to be at the helm of national politics. In 2015, Mr Kumar left the BJP and formed the Grand Alliance. The entire Opposition had started looking at him as the face to challenge Mr Modi. But then, at the last moment, Mr Kumar walked out of the Grand Alliance to return to the saffron fold.

After the 2020 state elections, the BJP started calling the shots and the chief minister apparently felt “slighted” on many occasions. The BJP also broke the JD(U) in Nagaland and merged its MLAs with the BJP. JD(U) sources said that over the past few months, Mr Kumar had not only opened a back channel with the RJD but was also in touch with other Opposition leaders, particularly Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

As for the electoral arithmetic, the JD(U) has units in over 26 states and has fought Assembly elections in Karnataka and Gujarat without any tie-ups with the BJP. The JD(U) has been working to expand and strengthen its state units, according to a party leader. Party sources revealed that Mr Kumar’s first and major obstacle in emerging as a national “face” was the RJD. However, “now that he has crossed the hurdle”, Mr Kumar will begin his parleys with other regional players.