Will it be Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar against Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the 2019 general elections?
The idea of replicating the ‘Bihar model’ at the national level under Kumar’s leadership has cropped up once again after the patchwork Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance failed to prevent the ongoing march of the BJP in the just-concluded assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh.
After Bihar JD (U) president Vashishtha Narain Singh made broad hints in the direction, party spokesperson Bharti Mehta on Tuesday called upon all secular forces to come together under the leadership of Kumar, who had successfully led an alliance of with the RJD and Congress to checkmate the BJP in 2015.
While RJD president Lalu Prasad has remained ambivalent on the leadership role, he declared at Patna on Monday that he would shortly start a countrywide tour for purposes of stitching together a genuine unity among NDA parties.
Shattered by the BJP’s spectacular showing in Uttar Pradesh, non-NDA party leaders are once again rummaging possibilities of coming together under a “reconstituted UPA” to reinvent the secular political space under a fresh leadership and a redefined plan of action.
“The old model of a minority-centered politics has been battered to death. Fresh political paradigms and a dynamic new leadership need to emerge,” said Sultan Ahmed, a senior Trinamool Congress leader.
He said Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi has not been able to inspire confidence even within his own party and “does not seem to be the right person to lead the charge of a combined Opposition in 2019”.
The churn in the opposition camp centres around two possibilities: The ‘homecoming’ of splinter groups of the Congress such as the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Trinamool Congress (TMC), YSR Congress and the Kerala Congress. And a broad unity amongst breakaway factions of the erstwhile Janata Dal -- Janata Dal (United), Janata Dal (Secular), Indian National Lok Dal, Samajwadi Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Biju Janata Dal.
Efforts should simultaneously be made to bring on board other like-minded parties such as the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul-Muslimeen (AIMIM), proponents of this theory say.
For its part, the Congress has already started talking about a broad-based grand alliance of opposition parties for the 2019 elections.
The assessment within the Congress is that all parties, including BSP, SP, TMC and the Left, will have to jointly take on Modi and the BJP, as opposition unity is essential for their own political survival.
“We will do everything that is required to challenge and expose Modi and his politics. We will also be looking at state-specific political challenges which vary from state to state. We will see to it that in 2019, we will give a formidable challenge to Narendra Modi and his brand of his politics under Rahulji,” senior Congress leader CP Joshi said.
Congress leaders cite the vote share of different parties in UP to pitch for a Bihar-style mahagathbandhan.
The BJP’s vote share stood at 39.7%, the BSP’s was 22.2%, SP 21.8% while the Congress got 6.2%. The combined vote share of the three non-BJP parties added up to 50.2%.
The important task, according to JD (U) spokesman KC Tyagi, is to ensure that the grouping is powered by a strong ideology and is led by a dynamic leader who inspires confidence.
“Nitish Kumar can be one of the candidates for the lead role in the opposition front,” he said.
NCP leader Tariq Anwar said said the process of a broad unity of political forces against the BJP has been initiated. “The leadership issue can be settled at an appropriate time,” he said.
JD(U) secretary general Danish Ali felt that opposition parties “have no option but to come together” but hinted that the party may not be too keen on aligning with the Congress.
“...there is considerable anger among voters against the Congress,” Ali said.
Rashtriya Lok Dal general secretary Trilok Tyagi was all for a united opposition.
“It is unfortunate that while the RSS has already projected Yogi Adityanath as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s successor, the opposition camp is still fighting like cats and dogs over the leadership issue.”