Nitish calls for a national alliance to defeat BJP. Is he bidding to be PM?
Nitish Kumar has played a deft stroke with his "Sangh mukt Bharat" remark, kick-starting the process for the formation of a national coalition against the ruling NDA ahead of the parliamentary election in 2019.
"Sangh mukt Bharat banane ke liye sabhi gair BJP parties ko ek hona hoga," the Bihar chief minister said in Patna on 17 April, clearing countering Prime Minister Narendra Modi's "Congress mukt Bharat" slogan. "To rid India of the RSS, all non-BJP parties will have to come together."
The remark immediately revived speculation that Nitish, newly installed as president of the JD(U), was fashioning himself as the maker and leader of a grand national alliance against the BJP, on the lines of his Mahagathbandhan that trounced the BJP in Bihar late last year.
Responding quickly to the overture, the Congress indicated that it was not impressed. Senior party leader from Bihar Shakeel Ahmad subtly reminded Nitish that his JD(U) was only a regional party and national leadership was beyond it.
Ahmad further said by 2019, alliances won't be needed as the people will oust the Modi regime anyway. His remarks reflect the Congress' discomfort with the possibility of its vice president Rahul Gandhi playing second-fiddle to Kumar in the next election. The party can't agree to such an arrangement as it would mean "belittling" Rahul's status, but it can't reject the proposal outright either lest it endanger the alliance in Bihar.
On their own?
Lalu Prasad's RJD, the third axis in Nitish's ruling coalition in Bihar, too responded cautiously. The party's national spokesman Manoj Jha told Catch that "it must not be forgotten" that the call for a wider front against RSS-BJP was first given by Lalu back on 16 May 2014, the day the BJP won power.
Agreeing with Nitish on the need to contain the RSS, Jha said all parties should realise that the Hindutva outfit's rising influence "is detrimental to constitutional morality". In a veiled message to Nitish, Jha said that when Jayaprakash Narayan was working to stitch a similar grand alliance against the Congress in 1974-76, he wouldn't speak on the question of leadership, instead focusing on getting the alliance ready.
If Nitish's proposal is to take shape, it's essential that the Left Front and the Trinamool Congress get on board. Both are currently too per-occupied with the assembly election in West Bengal to contribute to the discussion. Catch reached out to an otherwise vocal CPI(M) leader but he wouldn't talk about anything other than the Bengal polls "at this juncture".
The party's chief Sitaram Yechury, too, is silent so far, as is Trinamool boss Mamata Banerjee and her party leaders.
The other major parties that would be called upon to shore up the proposed alliance are the AIADMK and the BJP. The AIADMK, the third largest party in this Lok Sabha after the BJP and the Congress, is gearing up for a tough electoral battle in Tamil Nadu. Its response would be greatly influenced by the outcome of this election.
The BJD, which has 20 MPs in the Lower House, may be the most amenable of the potential allies. Indeed, the party's leader in the Lok Sabha Bhartruhari Mahtab suggested as much when he told Catch Nitish should have followed up his statement by reaching out to all the parties he had in mind.
Mahtab further said though it was too early to comment on the proposal, Nitish should first clarify two things. One, does he have only the socialist parties in mind? Two, what is his position vis-a-vis the Congress at the Centre? He reminded Nitish that while the Grand Old Party was "shrinking" day by day, there are several regional parties that are fighting both the BJP and the Congress.
Significantly, Mahtab described Nitish as a seasoned politician and said that though the Bihar chief minister had not staked his claim to lead the proposed anti-BJP front, he was in a formidable position to get the job.
Edited by Mehraj D. Lone
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