New Delhi, August 10
JDU supremo Nitish Kumar, who on Wednesday took the oath as the Chief Minister of Bihar for the eighth time, stressed on the merits of “Opposition unity” to unseat the BJP at the Centre and dismissed speculation that he was the contender for the post of the Prime Minister.
At the same time, however, he also threw an open challenge to Prime Minister Narendra Modi (without naming him), questioning if “those who came to power in 2014, will they be victorious in 2024”.
“Those who came to power in 2014, will they be victorious in 2024? I would like all (opposition) to be united for 2024. I am not a contender for any such post (PM post),” Kumar told mediapersons.
Kumar and RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav were administered the oath as Chief Minister and the Deputy CM, respectively, by Governor Phagu Chauhan five years after Kumar resigned and walked out of the RJD-JDU-Congress ‘Mahagathbandhan’, accusing the Lalu Prasad Yadav family of “corruption”.
Today, Nitish Kumar repeatedly spoke of “working towards Opposition unity” as he stressed that he was “not a contender for anything”, in other words the PM.
However, power corridors are abuzz that his move to initiate a fresh start with the RJD was in mind the larger picture, though many, including former ally BJP and his former associate Prashant Kishor, claimed “he does not have it in him anymore”.
On whether Kumar continues to be as popular as he was five years ago, Kishor was quoted as saying: “If you look at the hard facts, there is a huge difference. In 2010, he had 117 MLAs, in 2015 he had 72 and now 43. Many political commentators say his image is teflon-coated. The numbers don’t show that.”
Meanwhile, Kumar also rubbished the BJP’s claim that the new government will not last its full term, saying that his former ally “will be back where they were after the 2015 Assembly polls”.
Elections in Bihar are due now only in 2025, a year after the Lok Sabha polls. Observers say the coming together of the JDU and the RJD will help consolidate Muslim, OBC, Dalit and mahadalit votes in the favour of the “mahagathbandhan” and limit the BJP to “10-12” seats in the Lok Sabha.
Speculations are rife that Nitish Kumar may be the figure around which the opposition can rally around. The question, however, is if others will be willing to do that once the euphoria of “BJP being given the taste of its own medicine” is over.
While Nitish Kumar today refused to respond to questions about him being the PM face in the next Lok Sabha polls, he is one of the many, including West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, harbouring prime-ministerial ambitions in the country.
This is also not the first time he has snapped ties with the NDA, say observers about Kumar who today took the oath as the Chief Minister of Bihar for the eighth time in 22 years.
It is because of his “frequent political somersaults and U-turns” that some in Opposition view the JD-U supremo with a certain amount of “scepticism and suspicion”.
After he walked out of the grand alliance in 2017 , Tejashwi named him “paltu ram”—“someone who keeps changing positions”—and a “chameleon-like” character, ruling out any possibility of aligning with him in future.
However, the fact that Kumar has been able to ally with parties with as varied ideology as the BJP and the RJD is also indicative of his political flexibility and acceptability, say observers.
Kumar says he did not want to be Chief Minister after the 2020 win with the BJP. “Ask people in the party (JDU), what they have been reduced to. I did not want to become CM....but I was put under pressure.”
“How many seats did we win in 2015? And then we went with the same people (BJP) and look at what we have been reduced to,” he said.
BJP’s overdrive in Maharashtra has also not added positive perceptions in its favour, the observers added.
Chhattisgarh CM Bhupesh Baghel also said the BJP wanted to topple the government in Jharkhand, but their own government collapsed (in Bihar). “NDA’s alliance partners are leaving it...be it Akali Dal, Shiv Sena or JDU. It’s a message for 2024, people are disillusioned with Centre,” he said.
Eyes on new council of ministers
Sources say the ‘Mahagathbandhan’ will more or less stick to the old formula while deciding the council of ministers. While JDU is expected to have 14 ministers, RJD will get around 16 plus the post of the Speaker. The Congress may get four ministerial berths and HAM one.
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