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Why Mahagathbandhan is again the right maths for Nitish Kumar

At a time when the Opposition is looking for a credible PM face, Bihar CM Nitish Kumar could make a move for it

For the Mahagathbandhan, Nitish's value is more in the Lok Sabha numbers, where the Congress and RJD lack faces with appeal beyond Bihar. (Photo: Twitter/@NitishKumar)

Amidst buzz of the JD(U) snapping ties with the BJP before the inauspicious month of Kharmas begins from August 11, one immediate extrapolation is if Nitish Kumar is again trying to reposition himself for national politics, with the 2024 Lok Sabha elections in mind.

In a hint at the Bihar Chief Minister’s ambitions, estranged former aide R C P Singh said Monday: “Nitish Kumar did his best for Bihar between 2005 and 2010 because he was focused on the state. But after that… Man mein jab tarenge uthne lagati hain, toh (when one starts nursing big desires, then)…”.

R C P Singh resigned from the JD(U) on Sunday, having lost his parliamentary seat as he was denied a Rajya Sabha ticket by the party and facing allegations of land deals from within the own party. His remarks regarding Nitish will hit home as he was among the closest to the JD(U) leader in the time period he talked about.

Before Nitish decided to come back to the NDA in 2017, after a Mahagathbandhan experiment with the Congress and RJD, he had met Congress leader Rahul Gandhi. But nothing came of it. By then, Nitish’s hopes of emerging as a national convenor of the UPA – and hence a prime minister contender for 2019 – had already started dying. One of the planks that the Bihar CM counted on at the time was prohibition, a measure by his government that was at the time seen as very popular.

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Whether it propels him to centrestage again or not, Nitish’s parting ways with the BJP will change politics of not just the Hindi heartland but also have national resonance.

While the BJP might have emerged as the second-largest party in Bihar in the 2020 Assembly elections, just 1 seat behind the RJD and far ahead of the JD(U), having Nitish by its side has always helped the party.

A Mahagathbandhan that includes the JD(U), RJD and Congress, apart from the Left, on the other hand, can skewer its social engineering, plus Hindutva, plus nationalism, calculations. In the matrix of Bihar, it is the social combinations which work more than any other factor.

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Nitish’s development card, which still has currency, could help dilute the taint of corruption charges against the RJD. That the RJD hold has not slackened on account of the same was evident in the last Assembly polls when, despite the absence of Lalu Prasad, it emerged as the single-largest party.

For the Mahagathbandhan, Nitish’s value is more in the Lok Sabha numbers, where the Congress and RJD lack faces with appeal beyond Bihar.

The JD(U)’s wishful thinking is that should such an alliance do well in Bihar in 2024, Nitish could emerge as a nucleus of the Opposition, which is desperate for credible faces. The only obstacles in his path could then be West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee, who has her own national ambitions but will be unacceptable to the Left and to state Congress leaders, and the Congress’s own indecision on ceding the leadership space.

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A JD(U) leader sums it up: “Nitish Kumar has been Union minister and has now been the longest-serving Bihar CM. What else is there to achieve – deputy PM or PM. If I K Gujral and HD Deve Gowda can become PM, why can’t Nitish Kumar?”

First published on: 08-08-2022 at 02:37:53 pm
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