Sunday, 29 November 2015

Grand congregation of parties at Nitish Kumar oath taking ceremony - Is Nitish Kumar the next prime ministerial candidate or it's too early to judge?

After a landslide victory Nitish Kumar took oath for the fifth time as chief minister of Bihar on 20th November 2015 with pomp and show at the Gandhi Maidan in Patna. Leaders of various parties, including a few chief ministers (all non-BJP) and party heads graced the occasion of his oath taking in presence of thousands of people.

In the VIP guest stands, it appeared that dire political opponents of the BJP were sharing stage with a very victorious body language. Mamata Banerjee was seen with left leaders D.Raja and Sitaram Yechury. Arvind Kejriwal was seen hugging Lalu Prasad Yadav. The wide range of politicians' congregation appeared to be a rare political unity to mark the occasion and why not? After all, this is one rare occasion where everybody celebrated the electoral defeat of Narendra Modi, who one year ago appeared to be invincible.

Will this political unity last for long or say till 2019? I think it would be too early to judge. It was really unimaginable to see the Left and the TMC on the same side. Leaders of SP and the BSP didn't attend the oath taking ceremony, but did send out their good wishes. Some talks were going on as to whether the SP and the BSP will become a part of the Mahagathbandhan for the upcoming UP elections in 2017, but the BSP ruled out any such possibility.

Whether this event becomes an important occasion for laying the foundation stone for a formidable non-BJP alliance (read anti-Modi alliance) will become clear only after the five assembly elections of 2016 and the two assembly elections of 2017.

However the existence of this alliance is a good sign, as a united opposition will make the ruling BJP more accountable and keep it at its toes for taking necessary and quick steps for development. In a democracy a strong opposition is always required to provide checks and balances on the ruling party. Interestingly, everyone claimed in the run up to the 2014 general elections that Modi was a dividing agent, where as Modi in fact proved as a catalyst for uniting sworn enemies. RJD and the JDU locked horns for around 21 years but have now become bosom friends.
Former chief minister Jammu & Kashmir Farooq Abdullah said that Nitish was a prime ministerial candidate and the same has also been stated by the JDU leader K.C.Tyagi. In fact, if one honestly asses, he will find that only Nitish Kumar carries a persona that can challenge the cult personality of Narendra Modi.

So should we consider Nitish Kumar as a strong challenger to brand Modi? I think it's also too early to predict. Nitish has to perform first. It should be noted that although Nitish Kumar led the Mahagathbandhan to a landslide victory, Nitish himself has got a lesser mandate this time than what he got in 2010. His 71 JDU seats are inconsequential without Lalu's 80 seats. When Nitish was in the NDA he had a free hand, whereas this time he will be under Lalu's pressure. This pressure became clearly visible from day one, when the results of Bihar elections were declared and Lalu's RJD finished as the single largest party with 80 seats.
During the Bihar elections Nitish was questioned, that although his record as the chief minister of the state was excellent, if he won this time will he be able to control Lalu's influence? Nitish clarified that if he became the CM, he would ensure good governance without coming under any influence.

In his ministry Lalu's two sons have not only been inducted as cabinet ministers, but Lalu's younger son Tejaswi Yadav has been made the deputy chief minister. This shows Lalu's influence and stamp of authority in the new Bihar government. Nobody questions Lalu, as even earlier he had made Rabri Devi, his wife the chief minister of Bihar. Had this been a purely RJD government, Lalu would have inducted his entire clan into the cabinet. But why did Nitish Kumar allow this to happen? Inducting ministers from coalition partners can be understood, as a coalition government comes with its own compulsions, but why did he allow a first timer as a deputy chief minister? Was it the public mandate?

Many have also questioned Tejashwi Yadav's qualifications and credentials. My understanding is that a class 9 dropout (not even a graduate) is not appropriate material for becoming a minister or a deputy chief minister. Merit doesn't necessarily harp on educational qualifications, although educational qualification helps one to be meritorious. But what's the achievement of Tejashwi Yadav? Is he not just the son of Lalu Yadav? Okay, dynasty politics is nothing new in Indian polity, but then one has to work to prove his credibility before staking claim for a post of great responsibility. Rahul Gandhi is the dynastic heir of the Congress, but even after 10 years in active politics, he has yet not been made the party president. Rajiv Gandhi too was a dynastic heir, but when he became the prime minister of India, he had a lot of achievements at the personal level, Indira Gandhi too proved her credentials by serving as the minister of Information and Broadcasting in the Nehru government before becoming prime minister of India.

Here, Nitish Kumar could have asked Lalu Prasad Yadav to let both his sons to remain MLAs for a year or two, before being inducted into the cabinet. But it appears that Nitish has no say in front of Lalu Prasad Yadav. Even in the oath taking ceremony, one could note that although it was Nitish Kumar's swearing-in, the event looked more like the throne transfer of Lalu Prasad Yadav to his heirs.
Thus the future of the grand alliance mostly depends on how Nitish Kumar performs in Bihar. This would be an acid test for Nitish Kumar as till date he has never worked under pressure as the chief minister. Let's wish Nitish Kumar all the best!

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