Thursday, June 20, 2024
Whether INDIA Can Be A Competent Opposition?
Nitish Kumar's frequent shifts in allegiances undermine the Opposition bloc's challenge. Bihar chief minister (CM) and Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar's shifting political allegiances have ceased to surprise as this has been the nature of his politics for years now.

Bihar chief minister (CM) and Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar’s shifting political allegiances have ceased to surprise as this has been the nature of his politics for years now. Since winning office in 2005, the nine-time CM has travelled between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the two poles of Bihar politics, ever so often. This has been driven by the urge for self-preservation in a state where the lack of a caste or community support is a major handicap: And Kumar’s caste, the Kurmi, lacks the numerical heft to shape outcomes. However, Kumar’s shrewd and inscrutable politics are remarkable because he has managed to successfully sell his somersaults as principled — invoking anti-corruption, development, social justice, and good governance to explain them. The BJP, RJD, and Congress have been equally unprincipled in rallying behind him as he shifted sides, ignoring the spirit of the mandate.

For the BJP, Nitish Kumar’s re-entry into the NDA fold couldn’t have been better timed. The architect of the Bihar caste survey, he was the one who provided the basic template for the Opposition’s caste census call and social justice pitch against the BJP in 2024. Nitish was also the one who chaired the first meet of the Opposition (INDIA) bloc in Patna in June 2023.
His crossing over, therefore, in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections, has both symbolic and substantive impact beyond just the possible bump-up in the NDA tally from Bihar.

It puts a question mark on the Opposition’s bid to counter Hindutva with social justice — a strategy that has been its political commonsense since the early 1990s, when an alliance of Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati prevented the BJP from coming to power in 1993 in UP. That the crossing comes soon after Karpoori Thakur was awarded the Bharat Ratna dials down the critique of the BJP on the caste pitch.

Not only was there support for going with the BJP in significant sections of the JD (U), there was also a sense that the inauguration of the Ram temple could have an impact on JD(U)-RJD voters. “We have sensed that the Ram temple inauguration has resonated on the street here, even with non-BJP voters. Going with the BJP at this time was better for Nitish Kumar,” said a source in the JD(U)

A BJP insider told The Indian Express, “We have to fight the election in the entire country. Why will we make our fight a difficult one in Bihar and get stuck there? With Nitish Kumar, an electoral victory in Bihar is now easier and we can now focus on areas we are weaker to take our tally beyond what we got in 2019.”

The real importance of Nitish in the NDA – other than the seats JD(U) may bring to the table in 2024 — is the symbolic heft he offers at a time when the Opposition was trying to corner the BJP on social justice and for its winner-takes-all approach to other parties.

Kumar represents the tragedy of the Opposition and the reality of the INDIA bloc. Recent events suggest that the latter is nothing but an inchoate group of self-serving regional chieftains, whose sole consideration is furthering their own prospects. The Congress lacks the imagination, leadership or political savvy to hold them together; many of them are offshoots of the Congress and fear that the party’s resurgence would undermine their influence. Kumar’s exit and recent actions of parties such as the TMC and AAP raise the question on whether INDIA can be a competent Opposition, forget being a challenger to the Modi juggernaut.

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