By Harihar Swarup
0n April 12, when Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar walked into 10, Rajaji Marg, residence of Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge in Delhi to discuss ways to bring opposition parties together, it marked the end of a long wait for the seasoned politician.
Nitish had been waiting for the Congress to respond to his proposal that he could help bring opposition parties together to form an alliance for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. Ever since he had severed ties with NDA on August 9, 2022 and formed Mahagathbandhan government with the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress, the veteran had been expecting a call from the Congress.
Since 2015, when the Mahagathbandhan has registered a stunning victory over the BJP in Bihar despite the saffron party riding high on the triumph of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Nitish has been keen on a similar alliance at the national level. He had suggested that he could help in reaching out to regional leaders, but the congress was unwilling to cede space to regional forces. Similarly, most regional parties were not comfortable doing business with the principle opposition party. Nitish had subsequently returned to the NDA fold.
More recently, after the formation of the mahagathbandhan government in Bihar last year, Nitish met then Congress president Sonia Gandhi along with RJD’s founding leader Lalu Prasad. He had in that meeting taken up the Bharat Jodo yatra and preparations for the Congress plenary session.
At the national convention of the CPI (ML) Liberation held earlier this year in Patna, Nitish said he was waiting for the Congress to respond. The Bihar Chief minister was a first few opposition leaders, Kharge reached out to in early April. A three-day visit to Delhi was planned soon after phone call, with Nitish displaying a great sense of urgency to begin his outreach efforts. The meeting is being seen as the first major move towards opposition unity. NCP President Sharad Pawar, prominent figure in the anti-BJP bloc, was originally scheduled to join the meeting, but he met the Congress leadership a day later. Like Nitish Kumar, Pawar, too, underlined the need to reach out to parties like Trinamool Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party.
It is learnt that Nitish offered to bring on board parties that are not comfortable being in the same frame as the Congress, such as Trinamool Congress, the AAP, the Bharat Rashtra Samiti and the Samajwadi party. Nitish’s deputy in the Bihar cabinet, Tejashwi Yadav, who has a family relationship with Samajwadi leadership, would try to bring Akhilesh Yadav on board. The Bihar leader’s plan of action also includes reaching out to fence sitters like the Biju Janata Dal and the YSR Congress. On the other hand, the Congress is expected to reaffirm its ties with existing allies in states like Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Jharkhand.
The opposition has missed the presence of a leader like the late CPI-M stalwart Harkishen Singh Surjit, who succeeded in bringing together unlikely allies, be it in the formation of the United Front governments after the Lok Sabha elections in 1996 or bringing the Left and the Congress closer after the 2004 general elections. Nitish’s supporters feel that he could perform a similar role in the run up to the Lok Sabha polls in 2024.
The Congress has described Nitish’s meeting with Kharge and Rahul as a “historic step”. Nitish’s supporters say he is best suited to play the role of an anchor of the opposition grouping, given his seniority and vast political experience. And, he enjoys good rapport with leaders across parties.
As per the proposal Nitish has made to the Congress, he would make an effort to bring as many political parties as possible on a common platform. During his three-day visit to Delhi, he met Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, CPI-M general secretary Sitaram Yechury and CPI general secretary D. Raja.
Nitish has made it clear that any viable opposition grouping would require the Congress as its fulcrum. Hence if his outreach efforts find takers among the parties that have kept their distance from the Congress, it also amounts to these parties accepting the congress’s centrality in any opposition alliance. Nitish believes that congress cannot be kept out since the party and its allies take on the BJP in around 250 seats.
After meeting Nitish, Kejriwal said the entire opposition should come together and change the government at the centre. This marks a huge departure from the AAP’s stated position as the party keen to maintain its identity as an entity that is different from other parties.
“We have all condemned the disqualification of Rahul Gandhi and we were together in petitioning the Supreme Court over the misuse of investing agencies. These are still early days and what form of this understanding among opposition parties takes will depend on a number of factors “, said Sanjay Singh, AAP Rajya Sabha member. (IPA Service)