For Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, the Patna Opposition meet on 23 June was nothing less than a triumph. He managed to bring together 32 leaders from 15 political parties, including 10 current and former chief ministers.
Sources say that the meeting was by and large cordial and all the parties expressed the need to come together and defeat the BJP.
Nitish Kumar is said to have made personal efforts to ensure that all the visiting leaders are comfortable and given due respect.
Even during the press conference, Kumar managed the floor and let others do most of the speaking.
The only pinprick in the meeting was AAP's attack on the Congress over the latter's non-committal stand on the Centre's ordinance curtailing powers of the Delhi government. In the same context, National Conference's Omar Abdullah is said to have reminded AAP of its support for the abrogation of Article 370.
However, this was still a very small part of the nearly four-hour long discussion.
Why is This an Important Win for Nitish Kumar?
During the press conference, all the leaders present spoke in one voice. Equally important is the announcement that they would all meet again in the second week of July and discuss issues like seat-sharing and a common programme.
If the parties have already decided to talk alliances and a common programme in their next meeting, it's a big achievement for the first meeting and especially for Nitish Kumar who brought everyone together.
Particularly significant was the participation of parties who are neither electoral allies of the Congress, not share power with it in any state - the Trinamool Congress, Samajwadi Party and Aam Aadmi Party. All three are in direct competition with the Congress. The credit for bringing them on board largely goes to Nitish Kumar.
Through this meet, Kumar has established himself as a serious player for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections
Acceptability is Nitish Kumar's Biggest Asset
However, when we say 'serious player' it doesn't meant that Kumar would automatically become the Opposition's PM candidate or even the frontrunner.
If one goes by the May 2023 NDTV-CSDS survey, Nitish Kumar was picked by only 1 percent of the respondents as their choice for the next PM. As per the survey, he was not only behind PM Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi but also fellow CMs like Arvind Kejriwal and Mamata Banerjee, both at 4 percent and former CM Akhilesh Yadav at 3 percent.
Therefore even at the Patna meeting itself, there were four leaders ahead of Kumar in terms of nationwide popularity.
What works in Kumar's favour is his acceptability. Being Bihar CM, he is already leading a coalition that comprises the JD-U, RJD, Congress, CPI-ML, CPI and CPI-M.
Then he has a good equation with other Congress allies like NCP, DMK, Shiv Sena-UBT and JMM. However, where Kumar stands out compared to say a possible Congress candidate like Rahul Gandhi or Mallikarjun Kharge, is his acceptability among parties competing with the Congress - TMC, SP and AAP.
Nitish Kumar also has a decent equation with Odisha CM and BJD chief Naveen Patnaik, though the latter has been clear not to be part of any anti-BJP formation.
The only way Nitish Kumar would get to be PM is in a post-poll scenario. If the Opposition alliance somehow does well and comes close to staking a claim for forming the government, Nitish Kumar's acceptability among figures like Patnaik or even Chandrababu Naidu may prove useful.
However, for that the NDA has to somehow fall below 250.
Anyway, there are still 10 months to go for the Lok Sabha elections. In this period, Nitish Kumar faces four main challenges:
Four Challenges for Nitish Kumar Going Forward
Keeping the existing Opposition coalition together, especially balancing between the Congress on one hand and its known competitors like SP, AAP and TMC on the other.
Expanding the coalition and reaching out to Bharat Rashtra Samithi, BJD, YSRCP, TDP, BSP and JD-S.
Seal seat-sharing in Bihar and facilitate it in Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra.
Given his centrality in the Opposition, Nitish Kumar is a marked man for the BJP. The party will try all it can to ensure that he remains tied down with governance issues in Bihar. How Kumar handles these issues, including possible communal polarisation, remains to be seen.
One thing to watch out for in the next Opposition meeting is if Nitish Kumar is given the formal responsibility of managing the alliance.