Nitish Kumar, Kejriwal’s self-goals 

Both Nitish & Kejriwal were viewed as potential challengers to Narendra Modi & Congress, but even while in power, failed to inspire much confidence, at least partly due to propaganda by BJP

Photo courtesy: social media
Photo courtesy: social media

Sudiep Shrivastava

Nitish Kumar’s decision to return to the NDA and Arvind Kejriwal’s decision to nominate two ‘outsiders’, who also happen to be moneybags to the Rajya Sabha have changed the contours of Indian politics substantially.

Barely four years back in January 2014 Arvind Kejriwal had surprised everyone by leading AAP to secure 28 seats in Delhi from scratch and halting BJP’s clean sweep. BJP had won big victories in MP and Rajasthan while retaining Chhattisgarh after Narendra Modi was anointed as PM candidate. It was also the time when Nitish Kumar was being held up as the great hope, as an honest and courageous leader who did not mind risking his political career over issues close to his heart.

Both were viewed as potential challengers to both Narendra Modi and the Congress, which in January 2014, had over 200 members in the then Lok Sabha but even while in power, failed to inspire much confidence, at least partly due to propaganda by the BJP.

The general election of 2014 saw complete decimation of Congress which was reduced to 44 members in the Lok Sabha and thus lost official status of the main opposition party in the House. Congress went on to fare poorly in the subsequent Haryana and Maharashtra elections and in the Delhi election of 2015, Arvind Kejriwal performed even better and received support as opposition leader from both Bihar and West Bengal chief ministers. The same year Nitish Kumar dealt a body blow to Modi-Shah duo and in alliance with the RJD, trounced the BJP in the assembly election. It established Nitish Kumar as a major contender for the office of Prime Minister in 2019.

The beginning of 2016 also seemed to suggest that Kejriwal and Nitish were the leading contenders from the opposition to lead the charge in 2019. But by the end of the year things had already started changing. Kejriwal and AAP created sufficient hype to give the impression that it was poised to win in Punjab. Nobody can say for sure what would have happened had Kejriwal accepted Navjot Singh Sidhu’s demand that he be projected as AAP’s chief ministerial face; or if indeed Kejriwal had put up a Sikh other than Sidhu as his nominee for chief minister. AAP, which had won all the four Lok Sabha seats in the state in 2014, was everyone’s favourite to win the election. But curiously, around the same time Rahul Gandhi started doing everything right.

He projected Captain Amarinder Singh as the party’s chief ministerial face and persuaded Sidhu to accept the leadership of the Captain. The comfortable, if not resounding, victory of the Congress in Punjab was somewhat marred by the electoral debacle in Uttar Pradesh, where Rahul Gandhi’s pitch to vote for “UP ke ladke” failed to cut much ice. But the loss appeared to affect Nitish Kumar a lot more than Rahul Gandhi. It was arguably the result in UP that persuaded Nitish Kumar to forget about his own ambition and cast his lot with the NDA and opt out of the race for 2019. Subsequent elections in Goa and Manipur were not as bad for the Congress as was predicted by many pollsters. In fact, Congress could have formed a Govt in both the State with better political management. Gujarat witnessed Prime Minister Modi sacrificing the dignity of his office by spearheading a scurrilous campaign, a no-holds-barred campaign when he stooped low to save the BJP Government. And although the Congress lost, the campaign has established him as a leader with the capacity to challenge Narendra Modi.

Despite the clamour over dynasty, only the deaf and the blind would say his elevation as Congress President was not earned. Meanwhile, the manner in which AAP has decided its Rajya Sabha nominees has eroded whatever credibility Arvind Kejriwal was left with. What has been completely ignored is that not one or two but as many as 18 renowned Indians apparently refused the offer of AAP for a seat in the Rajya Sabha. Strangely, AAP spokesmen parted with this information with a lot of pride. What kind of political credibility can a political party boast of if such a large number of succesful Indians declined a certain Rajya Sabha berth.

Moreover, ignoring people like Admiral Ramdas, Kumar Vishwas, Aashutosh, HS Phoolka, Meera Sanyal and others has undermined the confidence of party loyalists who are now alive to the possibility that no matter what they do, any outsider can replace them. With both Nitish and Kejriwal thus losing ground, Rahul Gandhi is left to lead the alliance that will challenge Modi in 2019. Did someone say that BJP and Modi will be happy to take on the allegedly ‘politically immature’ RG? Judging by the sustained personal attacks, BJP actually appears distinctly unnerved at the prospect. Unless the Modi Government does something dramatic in the remaining 16 months of its tenure, it clearly has to brace for a tougher contest than in 2014.

Follow us on: Facebook, Twitter, Google News, Instagram 

Join our official telegram channel (@nationalherald) and stay updated with the latest headlines