The common ground Nitish Kumar can convince all the parties to arrive at is by promising equal distribution of position and responsibilities among the partners.
NEW DELHI: In 1998, George Matthew Fernandes was appointed as the convenor of the 24-party alliance called the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) which became the first non-Congress coalition government in post-Independence India to survive a full five-year term (1999–2004). He served at the position till December 2008 due to ill health following which he was replaced with Sharad Yadav.
Both Fernandes and Yadav are not alive any more. Twenty-five years later, one of Fernandes’ well-known protégé, Bihar Chief Minister and former national president of Janata Dal (United), Nitish Kumar, is attempting to emerge in the role of a convenor who will bring all the anti-BJP parties together and unseat the Narendra Modi-led BJP.
On Tuesday, Kumar landed in Delhi on a four-day visit during which he met political leaders from different parties while convincing them that it was imperative for all the Opposition parties to come together on a common platform, solve their differences and collectively fight the BJP in the May 2024 polls. However, political observers and party aides in his own home state are not sure on how all these opposition parties will “solve” their differences, the biggest of which is seat distribution. In Bihar, where the Grand Alliance that consist of apart from the JDU, six other parties, including the Rashtriya Janata Dal, Congress, three left parties and the Jitan Manjhi led Hindustani Avam Morcha (HAM), are not yet sure on who will contest on how many seats in the next year’s general election.
In the 2019 elections, the RJD had contested on 19, Congress on 9 and the HAM on 3 seats. The Left front in that election was not a part of the Grand Alliance and had contested on 7 seats. The JDU, which was a part of the NDA, had contested on 17 seats. The total Lok Sabha seats in the state are 40, which as of now, will have to be divided between the 7 parties of the Grand Alliance.
In 2019, these seven parties had contested on a combined 55 seats and if this alliance continues in the present form, all the parties will have to sacrifice a substantial amount of seats from their share in the April-May 2024 elections. According to RJD party leaders, the RJD will get the biggest share of these 40 seats, followed by the JDU, Congress, Left and the HAM. The same probable seat distribution was also suggested by JDU leaders who spoke to The Sunday Guardian off the record as no concrete “thinking” had so far emerged on this topic.
“Who will sacrifice the most? Each will expect the other to take the lead. RJD will expect Congress to give seats from its share to HAM and Left as RJD is the “strongest” partner in this alliance and in a better position to get more seats. However, Congress leaders, both at the state and the national level, have made it clear that they no longer will play second fiddle to the RJD, something which they have been doing for the last few decades. JDU on the other hand knows that the RJD is waiting for it to become “weak” so that it can make it a one to one fight with the BJP in the state. It is easy to say that “let’s come together, talk and solve the differences” but the point is for the differences to be solved each party has to push its own interest into the background and work for a collective cause. This, as things are on the ground in Patna and Delhi, looks difficult,” a Patna-based senior journalist said.
According to him, there was no certainty that HAM will continue to be a part of this alliance and not move to BJP’s fold as the election approaches as Manjhi’s only objective is to be in power, irrespective of whom he has to join hands with. Significantly, on Thursday, Manjhi met Home Minister Amit Shah in Delhi. Later he told the media that there was no political reason behind this meeting while stating that he could not meet Nitish Kumar, who was also in Delhi, because he did not get an appointment.
And this is just about Bihar, Kumar’s own home state. Similar clashes of interest are present in every state, especially in the South where Nitish Kumar will be going next.
The common ground that Nitish Kumar can convince all the parties to arrive at is by promising equal distribution of position and responsibilities among the partners, with some leaders being brought to Delhi in case the non-BJP alliance manages to defeat the BJP, while the remaining leaders being given the responsibility to manage the state.
In this scenario, Kumar will shift to Delhi while making RJD leader and deputy CM of Bihar, Tejaswhi Yadav as the CM of Bihar. Similarly, the Congress’s grievances will be adjusted by increasing the number of its MLAs who are ministers in the Bihar cabinet and giving a couple of its MPs who win from Bihar a place in the union cabinet. One of the major problems that Kumar is facing is what is also the biggest strength of this Opposition alliance; the Congress party. In states like Delhi, West Bengal, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh the Congress is in direct fight with the regional parties like Aam Aadmi Party, All India Trinamool Congress, Bharat Rashtra Samiti and the Samajwadi Party and it can be said with fair amount of certainty that these parties will not cede their ground for the Congress in their respective stronghold.
In Andhra Pradesh, YSR Congress is being seen as a dormant BJP partner and hence Kumar is unlikely to get a sympathetic ear from there. Similar is the case with Bahujan Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh.
In Odisha, however, the decade long status quo is changing rapidly and Nitish is likely to reach out to CM Naveen Patnaik, who till now had an undisturbed run from the BJP, something which has changed now with Home minister Amit Shah asking union minister in CM in waiting Dharmendra Pradhan to put all his efforts to defeat the Biju Janata Dal in the next election.
“To show how serious he is about his idea of a pan-India opposition alliance, Kumar can perhaps start by announcing his plans for Bihar, his home state. How many seats will the JDU contest, how many it will leave for the alliance partners? Unless and until something concrete is said and done, these Delhi tours will serve no purpose,” a party leader told The Sunday Guardian.
The 72-year-old Kumar knows that he has nothing to lose and much to gain from this newest endeavour. This is likely to be his last tenure as the CM of Bihar, where the elections are due in October 2025. If he is able to cobble up a pan-India non-BJP alliance which manages to defeat the BJP next year, Kumar will retire from his political life as Fernandes did.