Nitish Kumar is one of the best in the business to handle this tricky task
If the BJP top duo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and home minister Amit Shah are playing simultaneous chess with the leaders of the Opposition, in turn and as a response, the Opposition, consciously and strategically, is playing football with the BJP.
Each time the BJP seemingly pinned down a leader, and thus the party leading the initiative, it looked like the ball, or the onus of initiating and managing Opposition unity talks, got passed on to another leader.
There was a time when Nitish Kumar was leading such an effort, when the Centre put the top family of his alliance partner, the RJD, in the dock. Immediately, it felt like Tamil Nadu chief minister M.K. Stalin had picked up the gauntlet, calling for a coalition of those who believed in social justice.
At different times, different state chief ministers and heads of their respective parties Arvind Kejriwal, Mamata Banerjee or K. Chandrashekar Rao were managing the project to unite the Opposition — when the Central agencies dug up skeletons in their cupboards. A similar story played out with the leaders of Maharashtra — be it the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena or the NCP; though in their case the BJP response was not legal or investigative as much as it was political, and internal party dissension touched the acme.
The onus of taking up the responsibility to unite the Opposition for a grand national alliance — leave aside the question of whether such a coming together of anti-BJP forces would have a central or crucial role for the Congress or not — is increasingly beginning to look like wearing the Kohinoor diamond — it makes one the subject of glittering envy, which is a crowning achievement, but is risky and potentially fatal.
In such a context, when Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP is reeling from the Delhi liquor scam and the arrests of two crucial Cabinet members, when KCR is partly feeling the pressure of an ED probe into the same scam expanding to include his daughter and MLC, when Mamata Banerjee or Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren are also battling probes, the Bihar CM and JD(U) leader is once again accelerating his efforts to unite the Opposition against Prime Minister Modi.
In recent times, he has met Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik, who once again rebuffed the offer and strongly emphasised his equidistance from all national parties and fronts. Keeping his message simple, Mr Kumar is arguing that Mr Modi’s leadership is not working for most people, and in the larger national interest, it is imperative that most, if not all, Opposition leaders and parties come together.
In unity lies strength, is an old Indian political saying. When Rajiv Gandhi was reigning with an overwhelming majority in Parliament, it took almost everyone else to come together to defeat the Congress in 1989. Almost no one since has proved to be so strong in Indian politics, or so undefeatable, till Narendra Modi won a second term in 2019.
Nitish Kumar is one of the best in the business to handle this tricky task; and is finding a better response than everyone else before. Maybe he will succeed where others slipped. Maybe not.