Nitish Elected as JD(U) Chief: Rahul’s Far-fetched Plan for 2024
Instead of taking Modi head-on, Rahul is preparing to piggyback on Nitish till 2024, writes Arati Jerath.
It’s no secret anymore after his election last weekend as JD(U) president. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is positioning himself as a probable challenger to Narendra Modi in 2019. In fact, Modi himself unwittingly set it up when he allowed last year’s battle for Bihar to become a personality contest between them.
Consequently, it was easy for Nitish to give a national spin to what was essentially a state election. And he did so seamlessly, setting the ball rolling for the next Lok Sabha poll. “The Grand Alliance’s victory has given a national message,’’ he declared after the results were in. “People all over the country were waiting for (our) victory over the BJP.’’
The significance of Nitish’s move to throw his hat into the ring should not be underestimated. It is the first indication that Rahul Gandhi and the Congress may step back and allow a regional satrap to lead the charge against Modi and the BJP in 2019.
Task At Hand for Congress
- The Grand
Old Party faces a tough time with AAP gaining popularity in Punjab and Mayawati
riding high on an anti-incumbency wave in UP.
- A new front
emerges in Uttar Pradesh with Nitish reaching out to regional satraps like Ajit
Singh and Babulal Marandi.
- There is a
possibility of a tie-up between Congress and Mayawati which will give the Grand
Old Party an advantage beyond UP.
- Having won just
two seats in 2014 Lok Sabha elections in UP and a vote share of 7.5 percent, tie-up
with regional parties is Congress’ only hope.
Hopes from Third Front
Rahul has dropped enough hints that his time has not come yet. Not only has he said as much to close confidantes in the Congress, the very fact that he has not taken over as Congress president is a clear signal that he prefers to remain in the background for the moment. Those familiar with Rahul’s thinking say that he is gearing up for the 2024 battle in the realisation that the Congress is too weak at present to win a full majority. It will therefore have to ride piggyback on a Third Front kind of arrangement in the next election.
Politics is too fluid for any definitive conclusion today but the surest sign that Nitish could well be Rahul’s choice to take on Modi was the decision to draft the Bihar CM’s key strategist and advisor Prashant Kishor to help the Congress in Punjab and UP, both of which go to polls early next year.
Master Strategist at Work
Kishor’s ostensible role is to use his formidable skills as a backroom boy to craft a winning campaign for the Congress in both states. It’s an uphill task and Kishor’s reputation could well take a knock. In Punjab, Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party seems to have taken a solid lead, if opinion polls are correct. In UP, Mayawati’s BSP is best placed to reap a whirlwind from the strong anti-incumbency sentiment against the SP and Akhilesh Yadav’s government.
Yet, Kishor has opted to place his services at the Congress’ command. Clearly, there is more to it than meets the eye. The contours of Kishor’s task will emerge with time but it would seem that one of his functions is to create a synergy between Nitish and Rahul as well as between the Janata Dal (United) which Nitish is trying to expand by bringing in smaller parties like Ajit Singh’s RLD and Babulal Marandi’s JVM (Jharkhand Vikas Morcha) and the Congress party which is in the throes of a deep existential crisis.
One of his immediate tasks is to draw the Congress into an alliance with the enlarged JD(U) for the UP polls. Rahul is said to be toying with the idea but there are other pressures on him including a proposal for a tie-up with Mayawati. A Congress-BSP alliance has far-reaching implications because it goes beyond UP. The two parties together could emerge as a formidable force across north India in states like Punjab, Himachal, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and Chhattisgarh.
So far, Mayawati has rejected a tie-up with the Congress. But sections of the Congress remain hopeful. Rahul himself is noncommittal about the idea. However, it is well known that he enjoys a tremendous rapport with Nitish. In fact, it is worth recalling that he had talked about a possible alliance with Nitish’s JD(U) before the 2009 parliamentary polls when the Congress and RJD parted ways.
Challenger to Modi
Nitish has several mountains to climb before he can present himself as the main challenger to Modi in 2019. His biggest drawback is that the party he heads has a limited footprint, even if he manages to get the old Janata Dal back together again, which is his aim.
This is where he hopes the Congress will give him a boost. Although the Grand Old Party is at its lowest ebb today, it still has a presence in every corner of the country. Kishor will have to see whether the GOP’s remnants have enough energy for Nitish to tap.
Also, Nitish will have to win acceptability from other regional biggies. The results of the upcoming assembly elections and the 2017 state polls will tell us which satraps will be in play for 2019. Nitish will have to negotiate his way around them, some of whom, like Mayawati, could well be contenders for the PM’s chair too.
(The writer is a Delhi-based senior journalist)
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