‘Alternative agenda’ line seen as just a ruse to shift camp
BIHAR chief minister Nitish Kumar’s sneer against the Congress that it is incapable of building a good anti-BJP coalition, and it fails to find the nuances to set the agenda, while sounding bizarre, appears more like a desperate attempt to retrieve lost ground. A closer look at the tenor and punch of the accusation would make it clear that Nitish is trying to send a message to the Congress and the opposition parties that they must repose faith in his leadership.
Nitish might have grown in stature but is yet to emerge as a mass leader on his own. He is always skeptical of others using him for their gains. His latest jibes and barbs have made the opposition leaders livid. They feel that he was trying to thrust him on others. Maybe Nitish is right in saying that Congress should have an alternative narrative, but while making the initiative to unite the opposition, Nitish has not unfolded any vision. His latest rhetoric was merely a ploy to engage in one-upmanship.
Nevertheless, he owes an explanation to the country that in spite of knowing the character of the Congress and its fault lines, why did he at the first place join hands with the Congress and advised Sonia Gandhi to work for opposition unity. In the background of the latest development it could easily be construed that he had some other motive. He tried to send the message to the anti-BJP forces that he was indispensable and the survival of the Congress and the secular forces owe it to him. It also implied that he was sure of his survival as the chief minister even while RJD and Congress break away from the coalition and sever their relations with him.
With Nitish continuing to identify himself with the BJP, some RJD and Congress ministers were contemplating to submit their resignation and pulling back from the coalition. No doubt this reflected the mind and mood of their leadership. There is no denying that in such a situation Nitish would have to resign. Even the BJP support cannot keep him in the power as their combined strength is short of the majority. It is on the realization of this situation that Nitish is indulging in the aggressive self-sale. His challenge to the Congress to unite the opposition and set an alternative agenda for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections ought to be seen in this backdrop.
A closer look at the tenor and punch of the accusation would make it clear that Nitish is trying to send a message to the Congress and the opposition parties that they must repose faith in his leadership.
By harping that he was ruling himself out as the ‘face of the opposition,’ he was indulging in a mind-game and trying to goad the Congress to accept him. Nitish has asked Congress leadership to work for the unity of opposition on the basis of an alternative narrative that would focus on socio-economic development of the country and public and national welfare, instead of just engaging in reactionary politics. Paradoxically, while initiating the process of opposition unity, Nitish at no stage put his own alternative narrative in public domain. Now he is using it to beat the Congress and other secular forces. He is, in fact, playing to the gallery and following in the footsteps of Narendra Modi. It is an open secret that in India usually political parties do not go for opposition unity on any alternative agenda. They work for loose unity purely with the aim of coming to the power. By entering into coalition with RJD and Congress during the Bihar assembly elections, Nitish did the same thing.
Nitish said; “I had said in the presence of Rahulji that the Congress is a large party. It should call opposition parties and set an alternative agenda. My clear stand is that simply a reactionary narrative won’t do. We need an alternative narrative. Just forming an alliance at the national level won’t do. An alternative agenda should also be made”.
Politicians have no qualm in choosing their ally for survival and winning elections. Nitish certainly cannot be blamed for going back to his old friend BJP. But the manner in which was playing the game is questionable. He is trying to smear the face of his opponents. He may get some pat; even some may applaud him for his bold action, but people will be discrete in their evaluation.
A couple of days ago, while interacting with top leaders of his JD(U), Nitish accused that the lethargy and inaction of Congress heavily dented the impact of a large league of opposition parties which he helped to bolt together. He accused the Congress of mishandling alliances ahead of elections in Assam and dithering over who to nominate as the opposition’s candidate for the presidential election.
Nitish was only promoting his own personal stake. Significantly he had proposed the name of Gopal Krishna Gandhi for the presidential election even before the opposition could discuss the issue. His sustained criticism of Congress is obvious. He has actually been speaking the words of Narendra Modi. On his accusation against Sonia Gandhi for not entertaining his views and the party not setting the agenda, a senior Congress leader rightly sought to know; “Was it a clone of Nitish Kumar who met Sonia Gandhi last month at 10 Janpath, urging her that opposition parties field a joint candidate for the presidential poll? Are we to assume that his intent was to scuttle party colleague Sharad Yadavji from emerging as the opposition presidential candidate?”
Nitish should not nurse any illusion that the Bihari middle class will rally behind him. The Bihari middle class is primarily guided by its own class interest. It is a fact that the middle class, constituting primarily of the upper castes, is hostile to him. For them Nitish is the most unreliable politician. His recluse to be the opposition PM face for the 2019 elections has failed to elicit any admiration. While renouncing, he nevertheless made one significant comment: “Those whose names do the rounds (for key posts like the Prime Minister) never become… So I have ruled myself out of the race.”
Nitish is probably not realizing that his obstinacy against Congress and secular forces may eventually backfire. For its immediate political gains, the saffron brigade and RSS may accommodate him, but this bonhomie would not is unlikely to acquire a definite character and form. He continues to be suspect in their eyes. They are simply enjoying his Congress bashing.