Opposition fissures come to fore
Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar's unequivocal support to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's presidential nominee, Ram Nath Kovind, has once again raised the issue of his "ghar wapsi" to the BJP led NDA. Needless to say the JD (U) chief's stand is bound to create fissures in the ongoing efforts of the non-BJP opposition to unitedly put up its candidate, for whom it is a losing battle for the highest constitutional office of the country.
Boosting matters for the NDA are Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik's BJD backing Kovind's candidature along with the JD (S) and the INLD. Former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda of the JD (S) decided to skip the opposition meeting in the national capital, preferring to attend a Congress meeting in Bengaluru. While the SP's patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav appeared inclined in backing Kovind, Lalu Prasad Yadav's RJD favoured a contest for the top post.
The Maratha strongman Sharad Pawar observed in Pune that Chhatrapati Shivaji was never against any religion indicating that they were not averse to Kovind occupying Rashtrapati Bhawan, the erstwhile Viceregal Lodge. It is apparent, Congress president Sonia Gandhi's fresh efforts in bringing the opposition together has suffered a setback, which CPI leader A Raja acknowledged in no uncertain terms.
There have been ample indications in recent times of Nitish Kumar's unmistakable tilt towards Modi despite his vociferous opposition to Demonetisation in November last year and after his initial outburst against Modi in late 2013 when the BJP National Executive at its meeting in Goa chose the then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi as the Lotus party's Prime Ministerial candidate, much to the chagrin of several senior leaders like former Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani.
A determined Modi has not allowed these pinpricks, or the disquiet among his senior colleagues about his elevation as the numero uno of the BJP by its ideologue, the RSS, to bother him in the discharge of his duties and responsibilities as the Head of Government. Of late, Modi and Nitish Kumar have developed a rapport, with the latter praising the Prime Minister's policies and initiatives. Nitish Kumar recently accepted Prime Minister's invitation to attend a lunch in honour of the Mauritian Prime Minister during his visit to this country, giving it precedence over a meeting convened by Sonia Gandhi. Despite eyebrows being raised about Nitish Kumar's moves, JD (U) chief spokesperson K C Tyagi emphasised, they would skip the 18-party meeting convened by Sonia Gandhi, as it had become irrelevant for them.
However, Tyagi reassured that the JD (U) will remain part of the efforts for unity against the saffron brigade in future. With 71 MLAs and two MPs, the JD (U) has substantial votes in the electoral college for electing the Head of State. Nevertheless, its decision was not dissent free with the Kerala unit of the JD (U) refusing to support Kovind. It was conveyed to the party's national leadership which had no option but to accept it. The RJD being highly suspect of the chief minister's impending moves believes it was not "unexpected" as Nitish Kumar has a record of invariably going against the official decision of the 'Mahagatbandhan' or grand alliance that he is part of.
In 2012 Nitish Kumar, then an ally of the BJP, supported the UPA's Presidential nominee against the NDA nominee Purno A Sangma. RJD leaders charged Nitish Kumar with causing "great damage" to the bid for opposition unity with barely two years left for the general elections. They drew pointed attention to the Grand Alliance being intact in Bihar even though it is on a shaky wicket at this juncture, after defeating the BJP in the last assembly elections in Bihar in 2015. With the Shiv Sena falling in line as well, it's a significant achievement for the BJP in the run up to the 2019 general elections on which Modi already has his eyes set, and has already started working towards that end.
The disjointed and fragmented opposition realises their differences within will have to be resolved amicably, along with evolving programmes and policies which tickle the imagination of the people and is seemingly better than that of the Modi government. More importantly, they also need to ram home the point, the follies of the Modi regime, and why it has failed to implement the multitude of promises made to the people at large during the campaign in 2014.
These pertain to employment generation, bringing into the country all the black money stashed abroad and providing an inclusive government among others, in keeping with the Prime Minister's avowed pledge of "sab ka saath, sab ka vikas". It is now amply clear, if the opposition forces a contest, it will only be a symbolic one for the office of President. Modi continues to hold all the aces having completed three years in office. However, serious doubts have arisen among the leaders of the 'Grand Alliance,' about Nitish Kumar's political ambitions, and his real intent as barely 24 months remain for the 2019 general elections.
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