A new Modi challenger in the making - GulfToday

A new Modi challenger in the making

BRP Bhaskar

@brpbhaskar

Indian journalist with over 50 years of newspaper, news agency and television experience.

Indian journalist with over 50 years of newspaper, news agency and television experience.

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Narendra Modi

Changes of government in the states as a result of defection of groups of legislators or even entire parties have not been unusual in India since Prime Minister Narendra Modi led his Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies to power eight years ago.

Needless to say the BJP was usually the major beneficiary of these changes, and the Congress or rising regional parties have been the losers.

Last week change of a different kind occurred in the state of Bihar. The prime mover behind the change was not Modi or his chief lieutenant, Home Minister Amit Shah. In fact, their party was at the receiving end this time.

In a sense, what happened in Bihar’s capital, Patna, was a kind of palace coup,

Janata Dal (United) Chief Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who was heading a coalition in which the BJP was a larger partner than his own party, submitted his resignation to the Governor.

BJP-appointed Governors are usually zealous protectors of the party’s interests. But when a Chief Minister hands in his resignation, all that the Governor can do is to accept it and ask him to continue until alternative arrangements are made.

Actually, Nitish Kumar had himself made alternative arrangements before meeting the Governor. He had enlisted the support of all parties represented in the Assembly, except the BJP and a minor ally of it, to a new government led by him.

Within 24 hours Nitish Kumar was sworn in as the Chief Minister again. Along with him, Tejashwi Yadav, who was until now Leader of the Opposition, took the oath as Deputy Chief Minister.

After all that kindness, Nitish Kumar’s to break the coalition and forge an all-encompassing anti-BJP tie-up took everybody by surprise.

The next Assembly elections in Bihar are due in 2024. Lok Sabha elections are also due that year. Nitish Kumar, who has been Chief Minister nine times, has said he will not be heading the state government in 2024.

Nitish Kumar did not say he was ready to retire from politics. Obviously, he has set his eyes on a wider horizon.

According to Sushil Kumar Modi, Nitish Kumar had an eye on the post of Vice-President of India, which had fallen vacant recently. With the BJP comfortably placed in the two houses of Parliament, a candidate nominated by the party was sure to win the post. The Prime Minister picked a BJP Governor for the post and he was elected.

Against this background, there is speculation that Nitish Kumar may have broken away from the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance hoping to emerge as the Prime Ministerial candidate of an anti-BJP coalition.

One of the factors that stands in the way of the disparate opposition parties combining effectively against the BJP-led alliance is the overweening ambitions of the leaders of these parties.

While the Congress party’s strength was declining and many opposition parties were eager to keep the rising BJP out of power, there were occasions when leaders of small parties who lacked national stature could become the Prime Minister for short periods. One name that immediately comes to mind is that of H.D. Deve Gowda. But that stage is past now.

Nitish Kumar, who is 71, joins the ranks of Lilliputians with Prime Ministerial ambitions with certain advantages. One, he comes from the country’s second largest state, which accounts for 50 Lok Sabha seats. Two, he comes from the Hindi heartland and belongs to an Other Backward Class. And, of course, he has had experience as a Minister at the Centre and as State Chief Minister.

Above all, by bringing together all non-BJP parties of his state, including the Congress and three Communist parties, on a common platform, he has demonstrated the ability to hold parties together.

The next government at the Centre will have to carry with it not only a large number of parties, but the entire people of India. All Prime Ministerial aspirants must realise that they have to reach out beyond their states and their parties.

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