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Fresh strategy for opposition

Fresh strategy for opposition

Nitish Kumar's decision to resign as Chief Minister has dealt a severe blow to the Congress and the opposition parties that have been trying to cobble up a "Bihar type" mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance) ahead of the 2019 general elections. With Nitish Kumar's exit, the idea of a Grand Alliance at the national level is in complete disarray. Developments in Bihar indicate that individual political ambitions are difficult to contain in a front based on ideology, and that "anti-BJP-ism", a phenomenon that marked the politics of the 1990s, has now lost appeal.

The very swiftness of swap of an alliance in Bihar has shown Indian politicians to be a bunch of unprincipled men with shabby calculations and shabbier ethics. India's democratic project stands badly chipped.
Bihar's Grand Alliance successfully obstructed the march of Narendra Modi-powered BJP in November 2015 Assembly elections, raising expectations that the "Bihar model" could be replicated at the national level where the dominance of Modi's BJP has been overwhelming. That hope has now been belied.
The vision of Grand Alliance was such that Nitish was touted, at one time, as the opposition's Prime Ministerial candidate. That vision has now been altogether obliterated. Had Nitish resigned on the corruption issue and remained in the grand alliance, his image would have been sky-high. Now that he has decided to join hands with the BJP to remain in power, he has brought his image of a leader with high morals and honesty crashing down.
Just over four years ago, Nitish had split from the NDA in Bihar and today he has returned to the same organisation, claiming "a call of conscience" over the CBI FIR against his colleague and ally Lalu's son, Tejashwi Yadav. On its part, the BJP will join a Nitish-led government, reviving the coalition which worked successfully until 2013. Nitish split the coalition over the issue of the BJP projecting Narendra Modi as the Prime Ministerial candidate for the 2014 Lok Sabha election. Now the way Nitish has moved out of the grand alliance smacks of sheer opportunism.
It may be recalled how the Grand Alliance successfully prevented the march of Narendra Modi and NDA in November 2015 Assembly elections from coming to power despite the Prime Minister's marathon campaign. Modi had projected the Bihar election as a prestige issue. Now when it was thought that a Bihar type of Grand Alliance could be replicated at the national level where the dominance of Modi's BJP has been overwhelming, Nitish Kumar has completely sabotaged that idea.
The mandate that was sought and granted in 2015 was against Narendra Modi, BJP and its communal politics and in favour of a certain kind of social compact. Any kind of working arrangement between Nitish Kumar and BJP would be most unprincipled, to say the least.
The first indication that Nitish was moving towards the BJP came when he broke opposition ranks to support PM Modi's demonetisation move. In January, Modi returned Nitish's compliment, praised him for prohibition. In April 2017 Sushil Modi levelled corruption allegations against Lalu and his family including Deputy CM Tejashwi. Allegations led to an investigation by the CBI and ED. In June 2017, JD(U) broke ranks with the Opposition, announcing support to NDA Presidential candidate Ram Nath Kovind. In July 2017, Nitish was one of the few select CMs to attend the farewell dinner hosted by Modi in Hyderabad house for outgoing President Pranab Mukherjee.
Riding on his "victimhood" status, Lalu is likely to try to rustle together a fresh secular combination with the possible support of Mayawati's BSP and Jitan Ram Manjhi's Hindustan Awam Morcha. If Nitish Kumar's JD(U) splits on the question of Kumar's dalliance with the BJP, Lalu might take a shot at installing an RJD government in the state. But the pressure seems to be on the RJD and the Congress to keep the flock together.
A conclave of Opposition leaders will organise a rally, to be convened by Lalu, at Patna's historic Gandhi Maidan in August. Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, Samajwadi President Akhilesh Yadav, and BSP chief Mayawati are among likely participants. It is possible that the trajectory of Opposition politics for future will get defined after the mega event. But for the moment, prospects of a "secular alternative" at the national level appear dim.
Internal contradictions had started cropping up within the Grand Alliance with RJD ministers and MLAs undermining Nitish's position as Chief Minister by constantly deferring to Lalu. From Nitish's point of view, all these factors had made running the state a difficult task. And given that JD(U) shared a good working relationship with BJP during their earlier tie-up, quitting the Grand Alliance became a beneficial prospect for Nitish.
This provides a huge psychological boost to BJP and puts it in an even stronger position in respect to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)

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