What's Cooking in Opposition? Why Nitish Kumar is at Centre of a New Experiment

Nitish Kumar's centrality stems from the equation Congress shares with other Opposition parties

5 min read
Hindi Female

A series of meetings among Opposition leaders has, once again, sparked speculation on the possibility of a broader anti-NDA coalition in the run-up to the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. This time the key figure in these meetings is Bihar chief minister and Janata Dal-United leader Nitish Kumar.

Kumar met his West Bengal counterpart Mamata Banerjee on Monday, 24 April, in Kolkata. Bihar Deputy CM Tejashwi Yadav too was present at this meeting. At the press conference afterwards, the leaders spoke about opening a broader alliance against the Bharatiya Janata Party. Then he also held a meeting with Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav.

During his visit to Delhi earlier, Kumar had met Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge and Rahul Gandhi, with Bihar deputy chief minister Tejashwi Yadav too present. Kumar also had a separate meeting with Aam Aadmi Party convenor and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal.

According to sources, Kumar might be taking up the mission of broadening the Opposition alliance.

Then Nationalist Congress Party president Sharad Pawar also met Kharge, Gandhi and Congress general secretary KC Venugopal. That meeting assumed significance as it came a few days after Pawar took a different stand from the Congress on the Adani-Hindenburg issue.


This article will try to answer three questions:

  • What's cooking in the Opposition camp?

  • Why has Nitish Kumar suddenly emerged as a key player in the mission for Opposition unity?

  • What's the scope for a strong anti-BJP alliance for 2024?

What's Cooking in the Opposition Camp?

There is a very clear sense in the Opposition that they need to come together for the 2024 elections as they feel another term for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the NDA could have a very harmful effect on India's democratic institutions.

Three events have led to this realisation, not in chronological order.

  • Rahul Gandhi's conviction in a defamation case and his subsequent disqualification.

  • The arrest of Delhi's deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia and the possible arrest of Bharatiya Rashtra Samithi leader K Kavitha in connection with the alleged liquor scam.

  • The outbreak of communal violence in different parts of the country on Ram Navami.

The first two developments sent the signal that everyone in the Opposition may be in the line of fire. The third sparked fears that communal flare-ups may increase in the months to come, posing fresh challenges for the Opposition, especially those in power in different states.

"Opposition leaders are being hounded. Communal violence is being spread across the country. We need to rise above our individual egos. That's why these efforts have been initiated," a JD-U leader told The Quint.

This is in line with what Sharad Pawar had said last week, "Today, differences are being created among people in the name of religion and caste. Crops have been destroyed due to unseasonal rains in Maharashtra. Discussions are necessary on these issues."

The Quint had earlier reported that even Pawar's 'disagreement' with Congress on the Adani-Hindeburg issue and with AAP on PM Modi's degrees shouldn't be seen as a break from the Opposition ranks but rather an wake up call on the issues that can really help defeat the BJP.

A parallel effort to unite the Opposition has been initiated by DMK chief and Tamil Nadu CM MK Stalin on the caste census issue. On 3 April, the All India Federation for Social Justice – a vehicle floated by Stalin organised a conference to raise the demand for a caste census.

It was attended by Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot, Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren, former Uttar Pradesh CM Akhilesh Yadav, Bihar Deputy CM Tejashwi Yadav, former Karnataka CM M Veerappa Moily, Communist Party of India (Marxist) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury, CPI General Secretary D Raja, Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi chief Thol Thirumavalan, senior Nationalist Congress Party leader Chhagan Bhujbal and Rajya Sabha member Derek O'Brien.


Why is Nitish Kumar Taking the Initiative?

The speculation is that Nitish Kumar is taking the lead in the efforts to unite the Opposition. Why is Kumar emerging as the main fulcrum of this effort?

The answer lies in the different equations different non-NDA parties share with the largest Opposition party - the Congress.

Non-NDA parties can broadly be divided into four categories.

  1. Congress allies - DMK, RJD, JD-U, JMM, NCP, IUML, MDMK, VCK, Uddhav Thackeray's Shiv Sena, National Conference etc.

  2. Parties that are more anti-BJP than anti-Congress - Samajwadi Party, Trinamool Congress, Left Parties, AIUDF, JKPDP and of late AAP and Bharatiya Rashtra Samithi are also in this category.

  3. Parties that are equally distant from both Congress and BJP - TDP, Bahujan Samaj Party, Janata Dal Secular, AIMIM, Rashtriya Loktantrik Party.

  4. Parties that are more anti-Congress than anti-BJP - YSCRP, BJD, Shiromani Akali Dal.

The Congress presently doesn't have the support even of the Category 2 parties. None of them have publicly expressed any willingness for a pre-poll alliance with the Congress.

This is where Nitish Kumar comes into the picture. He has a good equation with many parties in the second, third and even fourth categories.

The parties which don't want to talk to the Congress, may be open to negotiating with Kumar.


What's the Scope for a Strong Anti-BJP alliance for 2024?

Sources say that in the meetings, a proposal was put forward that the Opposition should ensure that in as many seats as possible there is only one Opposition candidate against the BJP. Such adjustments have taken place in varying degrees in the past. In 1977, different Opposition parties merged together to form the Janata Party. The draconian Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi was the catalyst for this unification.

Then in 1989, the BJP and Left both lent post-poll support to the VP Singh government to keep Rajiv Gandhi at bay.

In 2004, the Congress managed to unify the Opposition in key states like Tamil Nadu, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh.

A suggestion has been floated in the Opposition that there is a need to minimise the number of contests within non-BJP parties. There is a willingness among parties to at least begin these negotiations.

"We want to grow nationally in the long run. But right now the need is to save the country from this government," a senior AAP leader told The Quint.

"We will continue our efforts to grow in different states and become an alternative to both the BJP and the Congress. But for the national election, we are willing to make adjustments for the larger good," the leader elaborated.

So far, the non-BJP parties are mostly united in states like Bihar, Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Tamil Nadu. However an adjustment won't be easy to achieve in the following states:

  • SP, BSP and Congress in Uttar Pradesh

  • TMC and Left-Congress in West Bengal

  • AAP and Congress in Punjab, Delhi, Gujarat and Goa.

  • Congress and JD-S in Karnataka

But the issue isn't just pre-poll arithmetic. It's also a question of how well the Opposition is able to put forward a united narrative.

Recent developments show that this won't be easy. Last week, Sharad Pawar had expressed his disagreement with the Congress on the Adani issue and with AAP on PM Modi's degrees. Uddhav Thackeray's party had slammed the Congress' jibes on VD Savarkar.

During the recent discussions, Sharad Pawar is said to have emphasised that it would be politically most prudent to focus on issues like price rise, jobs and agrarian woes.

The other question is who will be the face of this Opposition coalition? Several leaders like Mamata Banerjee, Arvind Kejriwal, Nitish Kumar, K Chandrashekar Rao all have prime ministerial ambitions. The Congress too, doesn't seem to favour going beyond Rahul Gandhi.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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