Chandigarh, June 6
Ahead of the now-postponed “first meeting of a joint opposition” to take on the BJP juggernaut in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, the buzz in Delhi’s power corridors is that the Congress may be considering pitching party chief Mallikarjun Kharge as its “face” for the upcoming general elections.
Though Congress sources dismissed the buzz as “highly speculative and hypothetical”, some observers believe that an election campaign built around the possibility of India’s “first dalit prime minister” may just be the “masterstroke” the opposition is looking for to take on Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2024.
Why was the opposition meeting in Patna postponed?
A day after the announcement, questions are being raised in a section of opposition over “lack of consultations regarding the date of the meeting” by JD-U leader and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who is doing the maximum legwork to achieve the goal of a united opposition.
The postponement of the June 12 meeting in Patna, apparently “at the behest of the Congress and the DMK”, has led to various theories, including that it was an indication of “fault lines in the opposition unity framework”.
According to JD-U, the meeting was postponed to ensure maximum participation of top leaders. Nitish Kumar too,said on Monday that he wanted all parties’ chiefs capable of taking the decision to attend the meeting on June 12. Since that was not happening, it was decided to arrange a meeting after June 22.
While Congress leader Rahul Gandhi is currently in the US, party chief Mallikarjun Kharge and DMK leader and Tamil Nadu chief minister MK Stalin had also conveyed inability to attend the meeting on June 12 due to prior commitments, according to reports.
At the same time, there are also reports indicating “lack of consultation by NitishKumar” before deciding June 12. Apparently, no consultations were held on the newdate. Nitish Kumar should have consulted every party before deciding the date, some opposition leaders were quoted as saying.
Nitish Kumar and opposition unity
The ruling BJP is watching carefullythe developments in the opposition camp, BJP’s friend-turned-foe-turned-friend-turned-foeNitish Kumar has taken the lead in coordinating with regional satraps and national parties like Congress, Aam Aadmi Party, and Left.
He may also be nurturing aspirations of being the joint candidate of the opposition camp, some observers say.
So far he has held separate meetings with leaders of many parties, including Rahul Gandhi and Mallikarjun Kharge (Congress), Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal (AAP), West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee (TMC) and NCP’s Sharad Pawar.
Importance of being Kharge
While Nitish Kumar is a ‘kurmi’ (OBC), Kharge is a ‘dalit’, even though he has largely never been seen capitalising on his caste identity. However, his appointment as the Congress chief came at a time when space for dalit politics was opening up with the BJP pitching for it big time.
Observers, in fact, say that a “mere hint” that Kharge may be the PM face can act as the clincher for the Congress desperate for successon the national scene.
While his caste may be a big calling card inIndia's caste-drivenpolitics, after the Karnataka' success Kharge has emerged stronger, almost like a patriarch in the Congress.The 80-year-old is the first non-Gandhi to occupy the post in the past severalyears.In the Congress' long history, he is the third dalit leader to become the chief with Damodaram Sanjivayya being the first and Jagjivan Ram the second.
After Karnataka, Congress is looking forward to taking on the BJP in Hindi heartland states of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. The results there will show whether Kharge, whose calming effect showed on the Karnataka unit overflowing with CM aspirants, has it in him to keep various factions under check, particularly in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.
If the Congress does manage to make a dent in the three Hindi heartland states, it would be seen as another feather in Kharge’ cap.
Why no dalit PM?
The question has always been raised by dalit leaders. Notably, amid a war of words between BJP and Congress around the appointment of Indian-origin Rishi Sunak as the United Kingdom PM in 2022, BSP supremo Mayawati had targeted both the parties questioning why India has never had a dalitPM.
“After Indian-origin Rishi Sunak’s historic appointed as British Prime Minister, here in India a Twitter war going on between the Congress and the BJP. Allegations and counter allegations are levelled everywhere, but no one is discussing about that political rights and justice due to which no ‘Dalit’ has been able to become Prime Minister in the country so far,” she had said.
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