The waiting game: Nitish's mixed political signals may be a calculated plan


Nitish Kumar’s mixed political signals may be part of a calculated plan

Ever since the Mahagathbandhan (grand alliance) of the Janata Dal (United), the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress defeated an ascendant Bharatiya Janata Party in the Bihar elections of 2015, the belief has been that the opposition’s efforts to regroup at the national level will coalesce around these parties. So, when Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar broke ranks and committed the JD(U)’s support to the BJP’s presidential nominee, Ram Nath Kovind, it came as a setback for the entire opposition. Mr. Kovind was the Governor of Bihar till June, and Mr. Kumar called the support a one-off move on account of goodwill for him. Nonetheless, he went on to castigate the Congress for being unable to come up with a coherent alternative to that of the BJP’s agenda, saying a “reactive narrative” would not enable opposition unity. Mr. Kumar’s concerns are not without merit. The Congress put forth the candidature of Meira Kumar clearly as a reactive measure to counter the BJP’s nomination of a Dalit candidate. Till then, the opposition parties had been unable to agree on a candidate due to either a lack of consensus or an inability to set a proactive agenda against the BJP, which seemed to be shaping the contours of the political discourse with ease. But other opposition parties have reason to doubt whether Mr. Kumar was indeed speaking out of a genuine concern for building a strong opposition to the BJP, or working on an exit strategy from the opposition camp so that he could ally with the BJP in time for the 2020 Assembly polls, if not the 2019 Lok Sabha poll.

Mr. Kumar had parted ways with the BJP just ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha election, making an issue of the nomination of Narendra Modi as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate. Although the JD(U) makes up the numbers in the Assembly in alliance with the RJD, he knows he could forge a winning combination with the BJP too. This is especially so in the context of the family of RJD chief Lalu Prasad, who is himself out on bail in a corruption case, coming under intense pressure from the Central Bureau of Investigation in recent weeks for alleged irregularities. Mr. Kumar had built his initial support base on an anti-corruption platform directed primarily at Mr. Prasad, and a break in ties with the RJD would perhaps not be as much of a surprise as his decision to ally with that party was. By creating this political flutter, Mr. Kumar could also be seeking to increase his own relevance within the opposition to make a bid for the leadership position. He is perceived to be among the possible challengers to Mr. Modi in 2019, and he may be looking to increase his own stock at the expense of the Congress’s. The conflicting signals coming from Mr. Kumar therefore may not reflect any confusion; instead, these could very well be the result of a calculating mind playing the waiting game.

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Printable version | Jan 27, 2020 3:18:53 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/on-nitishs-kumars-mixed-political-signals/article19235453.ece

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