New Delhi: Ever since the advent of Narendra Modi on the national stage after the BJP’s win in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, one question that is often posed – both by the pro- and anti-BJP voices – is: Who is the opposition face to take on Modi?
While several regional leaders have been named as possible Opposition candidates for the post of Prime Minister, their candidature proved to be still-born. Among these, the name of Mamata Banerjee was doing the rounds, especially after her third successive victory in West Bengal, where she proved all skeptics wrong by stalling the forward march of the BJP.
The names of Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao, NCP chief and Maratha strongman Sharad Pawar, and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal have also been floated on regular intervals. One big reason was that none of them, barring Kejriwal, who still has some way to go before being taken seriously as a PM candidate, comes from the Hindi heartland.
The Congress, country’s only pan-India party in opposition to the BJP, unable to resolve its leadership issue, also didn’t boast of any acceptable face.
All That Could Change Today
In Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, the opposition may have finally found a credible face to pit against Modi in 2024. Since, till today, he was leading a government of which the BJP was a part of, the Centre (read the BJP) will find it difficult to question his integrity or nationalism. Despite the fact that he is often accused of being undependable and untrustworthy, Nitish Kumar could emerge as the fulcrum around which the opposition campaign to attempt to take on Modi in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections could be built.
As a seasoned politician with friends across the political divide, he has, over the years, collected the necessary IOUs that he can now use to draw support for his Prime Ministerial ambitions. At 71 years, though not too old by Indian political standards, Nitish is also in the age when he won’t be seen as a long-term threat to Bihar strongman and former Chief Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav’s young son Tejashwi Yadav, who was earlier deputy Chief Minister in the Mahagathbandhan government headed by Nitish.
Since electoral politics is all about numbers, the return of Nitish to the Mahagathbandhan fold makes adequate political and mathematical sense.
In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, in which the NDA – JD(U) plus BJP plus Lok Janshakti Party, then headed by Ramvilas Paswan, who passed away last year – won 39 out of the total 40 seats, the NDA vote share was 53 per cent.
In case, now that the JD(U) is no longer part of the NDA, JD(U), RJD and Congress contest together, the BJP could find it difficult to repeat its 2024 tally. Even in the 2020 Assembly elections, the BJP emerged the second-largest party (77 seats) with a vote-share of 19.46 per cent, almost four per cent less than the RJD’s 23.10 per cent. The JD(U), which received 15.39 per cent votes, finished third with 45 seats, 34 seats less than the RJD.
Calculate whichever way you want, but the BJP could find it difficult to stop the Mahagatbandhan if it contests as one in the next Assembly or Lok Sabha elections.
But, with Nitish, whom Lalu Yadav compared to a snake in 2017 – “like a snake, which sheds its skin after a period, Nitish also changes alliance partners every two years,” Lalu Yadav had tweeted – nothing is certain. The only thing certain about Nitish and his politics is its uncertainty.