Nitish Kumar is the man

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Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar recently called for the formation of a Third Front to take on BJP in 2019. Though parliament elections are still three years away, Nitish’s bid to cobble together a Third Front makes sense.  After being anointed president of the Janata Dal (United) on April 10, Nitish has set his sights on Delhi. He called for a “Sangh-mukt Bharat,” twisting Modi’s slogan of “Congress-mukt Bharat”. He replaced socialist stalwart Sharad Yadav, who had been at the helm since 2006. He seems to be making politically right noises too and getting noticed for these as against the Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi who has so far singularly failed to make an impression.

Now that Nitish has pitched in for a key political role in national politics, his immediate challenge would be to build alliances with other regional parties, which share the legacy of the socialist politics espoused by Ram Manohar Lohia. But some of the leaders of these parties boast of a parallel political standing and have their own ambitions. For examples, leaders like Mulayam Singh Yadav, Mamata Banerjee, Naveen Patnaik would not be easy to get on board – albeit Nitish shares really a good equation with them. Last year, Mulayam Yadav backed out of the Third Front stitched together by Nitish with Lalu Prasad Yadav in Bihar.

But this hardly detracts from Nitish’s personal credentials for the top job. In 2013 after splitting from JDU following Narendra Modi’s nomination as the prime ministerial candidate, Nitish came to personify the idea of secularism in India’s secular-communal binary, thereby taking the place that in popular imagination belonged to Congress. No doubt, his politics has its calculations but it is seldom that the politicians in India sublimate their politics into the defence of a salutary idea. But Nitish has done it, rising to the occasion to make the all-important point just when there was an urgent need to do so.

This has been no small feat for Nitish.  In the ten years that Modi was in the ascendant in Gujarat, Congress despite its claim to being India’s pre-eminent secular party never posed an ideological challenge to Modi. Neither in Gujarat where the party failed to stop Modi’s juggernaut nor when Modi was riding high on his third straight election win in Gujarat Assembly polls, and acquired a national profile which he built on to become the prime minister of the country. But Nitish stood up to Modi, not only as an opposition leader but also a representation of an alternative and an inclusive vision of India. He has since demonstrated that his vision has a powerful resonance even in Modi’s India.

A win for his Grand Alliance in the recent Bihar elections had a profound significance. The victory arrested the disarray among the secular forces and gave them confidence to stand up to Modi in the upcoming state elections. One such being the ongoing election in West Bengal. A win here for the Mamata Banerjee or the Left will certainly herald the return of the secular forces in the country and brighten further the chances of a broad secular front against Modi led by Nitish.   

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