Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar received a huge endorsement from Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar, who, at present, considers him as the best possible candidate to lead an anti BJP front in the country. In other words, Pawar has obliquely conveyed to the Congress leadership that it should reconcile to the idea of someone else other than its nominee to take on Narendra Modi and the saffron brigade in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, three years from now.
Pawar’s approval of Nitish also implies that several non BJP parties would want the Congress to be on board, but would prefer having Nitish as the campaign spearhead and the main challenger in the next round of national polls. The logical corollary is that Pawar, while praising Rahul Gandhi’s efforts of doing some good work by being the only leader “who is practically visiting every state”, has given a message that he would have to play second fiddle to Nitish in order to give the anti BJP forces a fighting chance.
In fact, what Pawar has said is not unexpected. When the Congress joined the Nitish-Lalu front in the Bihar Assembly elections last year, its leadership did so consciously and knowing full well that Rahul would not be playing a stellar role in the contest. Many political analysts believe that Rahul himself wants to strengthen various regional leaders, who could aid in weakening the BJP in different states so that the ruling party gets into the big electoral battle of 2019 appearing vulnerable. This strategy betrays the lack of confidence of the Congress in wresting the government on its own and lays more emphasis on the capacity of the regional parties to unsettle the BJP.
The plan is also indicative that the Congress was willing to surrender its primary position of the principal opposition by bestowing the leadership mantle of an anti BJP coalition to a regional stalwart.
It further underlines the realisation within that Rahul, who is poised to succeed his mother as the party chief shortly, is prepared to wait in the wings to make a go for prime ministership and therefore would spend this time in consolidating his position within the organisation. If this is the case, he is showing political maturity, since he is aware that the Congress is not ready to come to power on its own steam, especially after losing its foothold in Andhra Pradesh, which sent the bulk of MPs to enable the party to form the government both in 2004 and 2009. The political folly of dividing the state has cost it dearly and as a consequence, it would take a long while to get back to its original position in both Andhra and Telangana.
As things stand today, Mayawati and her Bahujan Samaj Party are emerging as the strongest contenders for winning the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections next year, thus neutralising the huge advantage the BJP derived in the 2014 Parliamentary polls by winning 71 seats on its own strength, with two going to an ally.
With Bihar already gone and UP too slipping out of its grasp, the BJP would have to reinvent itself to make up for the losses in the next three years. This would be possible if new alliances with new regional leaders get into place, but if Nitish gets into the role of leading an anti BJP front, the political consequences could be serious.
Nitish is attempting to replicate what Sonia Gandhi did in July 2003 at the party’s Simla conclave where she gave a call to all “secular” outfits to join the Congress fight against “communal” forces represented by the BJP.
The move paid dividends and the party emerged as the single largest entity in 2004 with 145 seats, seven more than those obtained by the BJP. At the same time, it helped the Congress to form the government at the Centre along with its allies.
Interestingly, the CPI(M) also backed the Congress at that time and entered into a common minimum programme during the first four years of the UPA-1. Significantly, the Congress and the CPI (M) are contesting the West Bengal assembly polls together and could possibly also be part of a Nitish led coalition in the future as well.
If Pawar has matters articulate now, it is not without a reason since the veteran Maratha leader known for his political guile and understanding does not ordinarily speak out of turn. He obviously also has an agenda and wants to achieve some pointed objective. He has excellent equation with most regional leaders and enjoys their confidence. It has always been his ambition to do better than his mentor, the late Yashwant Rao Chavan, who ended up being a Deputy Prime Minister in the late 1970s.
There have been reports that he would want to end his illustrious political career on a high. In that sense, he is trying to prominently position himself where he gets to play an important role in the political arena even if that be of a kingmaker. However, the question remains: what does Pawar desire in return? For him, political moves do not construe charity and thus he has an unstated agenda. He has edged out the Congress leadership in his formulation, but would that be ultimately enough to resurrect him? Between us.