Nitish Kumar ‘misses’ flight to Bengaluru for Opposition unity show

Not too long ago, some of the Opposition leaders who had assembled in Bengaluru on May 23, saw Nitish Kumar as a potential challenger to PM Narendra Modi. Today, Nitish is just a small fry in the NDA

Photo by Burhaan Kinu/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by Burhaan Kinu/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Soroor Ahmed

One man who might have been nostalgically watching Janata Dal (Secular) leader HD Kumaraswamy take oath as Karnataka Chief Minister in Bengaluru on May 23 is none else but Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. Just 30 months ago on November 20, 2015, Patna witnessed a similar gathering of Opposition leaders, who had come to grace Nitish’s swearing-in.

There might have been a tinge of regret in Nitish’s mind, as on that occasion, some of those who assembled in Patna saw in him an alternative Opposition prime ministerial candidate to challenge Prime Minister Narendra Modi. At least once, even Lalu Prasad Yadav had backed him for this post.

After all, it was Nitish Kumar who had stormed out of the National Democratic Alliance when the BJP projected Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate. It was Nitish Kumar who dissolved his party Janata Dal (United)’s alliance government with BJP in Bihar, and joined the Opposition ranks. It was Nitish Kumar who grandly announced his dream of a ‘Sangh-Mukt Bharat’, in response to Modi and Shah’s pompous plans of a ‘Congress-Mukt Bharat’.

Much water has flown down the Ganga and Cauvery since then. Famously, Nitish Kumar’s inner voice was troubled by the corruption charges against his then deputy, RJD leader Tejashwi Prasad Yadav, and he ran back to BJP’s embrace. Today, his inner voice has gone silent. He has lost his voice to such an extent that he was unable to even tweet congratulations to HD Kumaraswamy and his Congress deputy G Parameshwara.

Not that anyone is lining up to listen. Exactly half-way down his five-year tenure, Nitish is now just a small fry in the NDA––a sort of non-playing captain of Bihar. His chair is not very secure and he has lost his bargaining position.

In contrast, the Opposition leaders who gathered in Karnataka’s capital have every reason to feel elated. If defeating Narendra Modi was a distant dream on November 20, 2015 in Patna, the scenario was completely different in Bengaluru on May 23, 2018. All that Nitish Kumar had so fervently hoped would happen, has come to pass. The Bahujan Samaj Party and Samajwadi Party have come together in Uttar Pradesh; the TDP chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, the Trinamool chief minister of West Bengal, the AAP chief minister of Delhi and CPI(M) chief minister of Kerala all shared the stage at the swearing-in cermemony of a Congress-JD(S) alliance government. Except, Nitish Kumar is no longer able to enjoy these successes. He left the party, just before the action began.

The alarm in the already uneasy JD(U) rank and file in Bihar is growing by the day. They are no longer able to hide their concern about Nitish choosing to fight Narendra Modi when he was really powerful; then joining Modi when he started becoming vulnerable

His timing could not have been worse. After Nitish rejoined with BJP, the BJP struggled to win the assembly election in Gujarat, the home turf of party chief Amit Shah and Prime Minister Modi. It formed a few governments in the small North East states and emerged single largest party in Karnataka, but polled 36.2% votes against 38% by the Congress alone. The Congress-JD(S) alliance combined accounts for nearly 60% of votes in Karnataka.

None else but Modi is largely to blame for this huge decline in BJP’s popularity. His grand demonetisation exercise and the shoddy manner in which the Goods and Services Tax was implemented—both publicly celebrated by Nitish Kumar—wreaked havoc on the economy. The violent shenanigans of cadres of various Sangh Parivar outfits have further contributed to destroying Narendra Modi’s development narrative.

Thus, while the BJP took the coming together of the Opposition top brass in Patna in 2015 lightly, it is certainly alarmed by the sight of them joining hands in Bengaluru. After all Mayawati, one of the key players without whom any attempt at Opposition unity would struggle, did not deign to attend Nitish Kumar’s swearing-in, but took centre-stage in Bengaluru. Worse, BJP’s erstwhile ally N Chandrababu Naidu also graced the stage in Bengaluru. BJP’s Maharashtra partner Shiv Sena said its chief Uddhav Thackeray could not attend due to being busy with campaigning for the upcoming Palghar Lok Sabha bypoll, but made sure to send its best wishes to the new non-NDA government. Modi, Shah and RSS cannot wish away the upcoming challenge presented by that show of Opposition unity.

The Opposition has also already begun their ground work for the next Lok Sabha polls, as is being witnessed in recent and upcoming bypolls. Jokihat assembly seat in Nitish’s Bihar too, will in all likelihood, soon be wrested from JD(U) in a bypoll on May 28, and added to the Opposition kitty.

The alarm in the already uneasy JD(U) rank and file in Bihar is growing by the day. They are no longer able to hide their concern about Nitish choosing to fight Narendra Modi when he was really powerful; then joining Modi when he started becoming vulnerable.

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