Nitish’s Challenge

BIHAR Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has once again switched sides, his fourth time since 2013. In that year, Kumar had ditched the NDA in protest against the anointing of the then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi as the prime ministerial candidate. He later formed a grand alliance with the Rashtriya Janata Dal of Lalu Prasad Yadav and defeated the BJP in the subsequent Assembly polls. But Kumar soon had second thoughts and a year into the government with the RJD, he switched over to the BJP. Now, Kumar has gone back to the RJD and has taken oath as Bihar chief minister as the candidate of the grand alliance, also called Mahagathbandhan. This has pitted him once again against the BJP and not only in Bihar but also at the national level. Some see him as the best bet for the opposition to take on the prime minister Narendra Modi.  Would the opposition project him as its prime ministerial candidate in the run up to 2024? This is still in the realm of speculation, more so, at a time when the larger opposition is adrift and struggling to find its bearings.

During his previous stint as the BJP opponent, Kumar had called for the formation of a Third Front to take on BJP in 2019. It, however,  didn’t materialize. He had also called for a “Sangh-mukt Bharat,” twisting PM Modi’s slogan of “Congress-mukt Bharat”. He made politically right noises at the time and got noticed for these. He also made a bid for a key political role in national politics, and tried to build alliances with other regional parties. But some of the leaders of these parties had a parallel political standing  and their own ambitions. For example, leaders like Akhilesh Kumar, Mamata Banerjee, Naveen Patnaik did not get on board.

Would Kumar make a second bid at stitching together a national alliance against the BJP this time around? He may very well do so. But it would be far tougher to do that. The BJP under the PM Modi is entrenched too deeply in the national polity to be easily dislodged. The PM Modi has acquired an overarching presence which seems impossible for any other leader to replace.

But this hardly detracts from Nitish’s personal credentials for the top job. He has been a prominent leader active on the national scene for over three decades and has displayed the  ability to survive and flourish against all odds. Would he repeat this history, now this time pitted against the most difficult odds? Only time will tell.

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