Can Nitish Kumar Prove A Potential Challenger for Modi in 2024?

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Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Prime Minister Narendra Modi

BJP’s discomfiture on the issue of farmers and credibility deficit of the PM work is sure to work to Nitish’s advantage

Abdul Qadir | Clarion India

AT this point of time it would be cynical, if not bizarre, to see Nitish Kumar as a claimant to the top job in 2024. But going by the unpredictability of Indian politics since 1977 when everybody gave up Morarji Desai, supporters of the Bihar Chief Minister may not be entirely wrong if they dream big for their leader. Not only Morarji, Narasimha Rao, Chandrashekhar, IK Gujral and Deve Gowda have been dark horses in the race for 7 Race Course Road, now Lok Kalyan Marg race.

On his part, Nitish Kumar too, by taking a political line very different from the senior alliance partner in Bihar (BJP) on issues like caste based census, National Register of Citizens (NRC), special status for the state and growing vigilantism has dropped enough hints that for him the alliance was no more than a marriage of convenience and finding an excuse to say triple talaq to the saffron party may not be that inconvenient for him.

The uneasiness within the coalition ruling Bihar and the assertion of JD (U) chief Rajiv Ranjan @Lallan Singh that coalition dharma virtually ended with the Vajpayee-Advani era means everything was not fine in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) kitchen in Bihar.

The BJP, despite being in power, both at the Centre and in Bihar, quite often appears to play the role of Opposition with senior leaders, including state party chief, putting their own government in the dock on important issues like lockdown and special status. The JD (U) too has found a Trojan horse in the saffron camp as Gyanendra Kumar Singh , the BJP MLA from Barh has said on record that 80 per cent of BJP ministers in Bihar were corrupt.

Nitish Kumar, known for his skills in political somersault and possession of a well-programmed conscience may emerge as a challenger to PM Modi in 2024. BJP’s discomfiture on the issue of farmers and credibility deficit of the PM work is sure to work to Nitish’s advantage. In any case, there is an acute shortage of leaders who can present a note-worthy challenge to the PM.

Mamata Banerjee and Sharad Pawar, the other likely contenders suffer from some very serious handicaps including issues related to language, temperament and public image. Whereas Mamta Banerjee is seen as too temperamental, Pawar, besides being on the wrong side of age and health setback, does not boasts of a very clean image.

The Congress has dropped enough hints that Rahul won’t  be leading a coalition and the party is highly unlikely to get a majority on its own and as such Rahul would not be in the reckoning in 2024. Nitish has almost all the traits of a copy-book Congressman and the Gandhi family too is believed to have no qualms about Nitish’s leadership.

Unlike Mamata and Pawar, Nitish hails from the Hindi heartland and regarded as a good public speaker. Akhilesh, Tejashwi and even Mayawati may not be very much opposed to his political elevation.

Modi and Nitish are a study in contrast. While the incumbent PM allows his baser human instinct to come into play on public platforms time and again, Nitish’s political savviness puts him on a much higher pedestal.

True, of late, Nitish has also shown some temperamental tendencies, yet going by his overall personality he might be regarded as a much decent alternative as compared to his rivals. Bengal elections have proved that mimicry and teenager cat calls are no longer acceptable to the public at large.

Moreover, a degree of seriousness is welcome in a leader, but he has to be different from his rivals of the stage performing variety. The nation would like to see a leader who is taken seriously at the international level and not someone who brings ridicule to the person and the office through a very poor mix of arrogance and ignorance, more so the later.

Being a state centric leader, Nitish does not have political enemies at the national level and this goes to his advantage. From Stalin to Uddhav, Omar to Yechuri, Naidu to Mamta, Nitish enjoys a comfort level that no other potential PM candidate has got.

Nitish Kumar hails from a state that sends no less than 40 MPs to the Lok Sabha and as a PM candidate he can legitimately expect the undivided Bihar (including Jharkhand) to stand behind him. More than anybody else, Lalu too would like a promotion for him to establish his son in the state politics.

Notwithstanding his BJP links, Nitish enjoys a rare goodwill among the minorities. Not allowing cow vigilantes to dig heels in Bihar and prompt governmental intervention to prevent and diffuse communal tension, arrest of a Union minister’s son on the charge of fomenting communal hatred, elevation of Amir Subhani as Bihar’s first Muslim Chief Secretary (despite stiff opposition from the alliance partner), all this puts Nitish in the good books of opinion making sections of a sizeable minority population of the state.

Additionally, Nitish has never been accused of being anti Hindu and he may even follow the line of soft Hindutva to challenge the Sangh Parivar without alienating the minorities. He also does not carry any heavy political baggage, ideological or otherwise and traveling light in politics has its own advantages. And then he is a genuine OBC and did not get his caste notified as such.

In a risky plunge, Nitish has little to lose as he has already led a full political life and has got much to gain if the gamble works. But all this does not mean that anything dramatic is going to happen in the immediate future.

 

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