Will a united Opposition field Nitish Kumar as the candidate for the election of the president scheduled later this year? While Kumar shrugged the media query when he was asked in Patna, saying that he has nothing of the sort in mind, the fast-changing political scenario is hinting otherwise.
The five-year tenure of incumbent President Ram Nath Kovind will end on 25 July and rumours are rife about how the Opposition is planning to put a united face to rein in BJP.
Names of 'Maratha Satrap' Sharad Pawar, BSP supremo Mayawati, and a few others have been discussed as possible presidential candidates for the last few months, but now the name of Nitish Kumar is also being talked about as a leading contender.
Nitish Kumar's Candidacy: Topic of Prashant Kishor's Closed-Door Meet in Hyderabad?
The rumour mill started working overtime earlier this month after a meeting between Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao and poll strategist Prashant Kishor took place in Hyderabad. Kishor has been instrumental in paving way for many chief ministers in the past to the power corridors, and that is one reason that his words are weighed in carefully by the politicians.
It is believed that projecting Nitish Kumar as the presidential candidate of the Opposition was one of the issues discussed at the closed-door meeting in Hyderabad.
K Chandrasekhar Rao setting out on a whirlwind tour of other states after the meeting, in order to bring the scattered opposition parties on one platform, is being considered as the first indication of the proposed strategy.
Rao met Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and NCP Chief Sharad Pawar in Mumbai on 19 February. He reportedly aims to bring Mamata Banerjee, and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal to the new front in the next phase of his mission.
Rao had earlier met RJD leader Tejaswi Yadav in Hyderabad on 11 February. Rao had sent a special charter plane to Patna for Tejaswi Yadav for the meeting. While RJD is questioning the intention of Nitish Kumar fighting the presidential election, insiders say that RJD is positive about the move.
"I had not become the part of the initial complaint in the case," Nitish Kumar said when Lalu Yadav was convicted for the fifth time in the fodder scam recently. Kumar, in the past, has maintained that he is not responsible for Lalu Yadav going to jail in the fodder scam.
"When few people had come for my signature, I had refused. I told them that filing cases is not my job, you people can go ahead."Nitish Kumar on 21 February, the day Lalu Yadav was convicted for the fifth time
Nitish Kumar was a leader of the Samata Party at the time of the fodder scam.
Political experts see this statement as Nitish Kumar extending a hand of friendship to Lalu Yadav, again.
Nitish Kumar's 'Courtesy Call' With Kishor
Interestingly, Nitish Kumar met Prashant Kishor on 18 February in New Delhi. Though the meeting was termed as a "courtesy call," political pundits are connecting it with the ambition of Nitish Kumar for Raisina Hill.
Two years ago, Nitish Kumar had expelled Prashant Kishor from the JD(U) for anti-party activities. He was a national vice president of the party and was taking a line different from the party on Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and NRC. The circumstances clearly hint at a possible strategy of the Opposition in making.
"It is no imagination but a fact that Nitish Kumar covets the presidentship. He knows that he cannot become Prime Minister as there are too many contenders in the opposition. He has also lost the sheen as a national leader, once he was projected to be," Satyanarayan Madan, a political analyst said.
Madan points out that besides the ebbing image as a national leader, Nitish Kumar also faces a deficit of trustworthiness as he joined hands with PM Modi, once his bête noire.
Why President Election Is the Right Step for Nitish Kumar?
There are three major reasons for this:
First, he wants to retire from active politics respectfully.
Nitish Kumar has been active in politics at the center and in the state for the last 30 years. He has been chief minister of Bihar for the last 17 years barring a brief period of nine months when he handed over the baton to Jeetan Ram Manjhi.
Second, the differences between BJP and JD(U) are becoming insurmountable.
Union government facilitating those responsible for disrespect of Emperor Ashoka the Great, not considering long-standing demand of special status to Bihar, refusing caste census, and BJP demanding a law for population controls are the major issues among others. The slogan of "double engine government" fizzled out as the Centre has refused to accept JD(U)’s demands, especially that of special status and caste census.
Thirdly, BJP is now eyeing the chief ministership in Bihar.
BJP MP Chhedi Paswan recently demanded that chief ministership should be handed over to the BJP as Nitish Kumar has already completed half of his tenure in a government supported by them. While the BJP leadership chose to ignore the statement, Nitish Kumar, a political survivor against the odds, is on alert after it.
Can Nitish Kumar Win?
The election of the president in India is conducted through an electoral college consisting of members of Parliament, and members of Legislative Assemblies of the states and union territories.
Five states namely Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Manipur, and Goa are going through the election process and results would be announced on 10 March. Opposition parties are expecting a better performance in Uttar Pradesh and in Punjab.
Political analysts believe that even if Samajwadi Party and the Congress can't form government in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab respectively, but performs well, it may make equations of presidential election interesting.
If the Opposition could muster 50 percent of the seats in these elections, it can fancy its chances in the presidential election.
However, the path of Nitish Kumar to Raisina hill is littered with dangers and pitfalls. First, he would have to resign as the chief minister of Bihar and break his alliance with the BJP. RJD in Bihar and NCP would demand that as a pre-condition. Despite that, the success of his sojourn is not ensured. But, never say never in politics, is an old adage.
There is a possibility that if RJD supports Nitish Kumar for presidentship, then foes may again turn friends in Bihar.
"By projecting Nitish Kumar as the candidate in the presidential election, the Opposition wants to attract limelight towards it and trying to send a message that politics is a game of possibilities," political expert Soroor Ahmed said.
(The author is a senior journalist based in Patna. He can be contacted on Twitter @patnastory. Views expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect those of The Quint.)
(This article originally appeared on Hindi Quint. It has been translated by Arvind Singh.)