“Jumla nahi hakihat” (facts not fiction), “Mann ki nahi, kaam ki” (actual work speaks for itself) – with these slogans accompanying his photographs for a new publicity campaign, Nitish Kumar has predictably issued himself as the challenger to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2024.
The slogans take aim at those favoured by the PM, deriding them as fluff to cover up a lack of any real accomplishments.
JDU launches a series of posters and slogans positioning @NitishKumar for the national role
जुमला नहीं, हक़ीक़त!
मन की नहीं, काम की!
प्रदेश में दिखा, देश में दिखेगा! pic.twitter.com/GfkAo7fbIp
— Marya Shakil (@maryashakil) September 1, 2022
The publicity material was launched yesterday by aides close to Nitish Kumar and were the direct consequence of his meeting with his Telengana counterpart, K Chandrasekhar Rao or “KCR”, who seems to have signed up for bringing together an anti-BJP league to unitedly contest the next general election.
In a month, Nitish Kumar has morphed from a somewhat lethargic Chief Minister in a perpetual state of discontent with his ally, the BJP, to the head of a new government based on a partnership with Tejaswi Yadav, nearly half his age.
“After dumping the BJP, Nitish Kumar is back into national politics, which is closest to his heart. Only a seven-time Chief Minister like Nitish babu can take on Modi. While he was with the BP, he was irritable because of the daily humiliation heaped on him. Now he is back in form,” said an aide close to Nitish Kumar.
With Nitish Kumar no longer being coy about his interest in running for PM, more details are emerging about how he intends to make it happen. So, Tejaswi Yadav has apparently been promised that “Deputy” will be struck off from his title to establish him as Chief Minister for perhaps a year, as Nitish Kumar becomes MP and heads to Delhi to focus full-time on whipping up recalcitrant Opposition leaders, all of whom have boundless ambitions to run for PM.
Sources say that KCR has committed to Nitish Kumar that he will touch base with major Opposition leaders to work out a common agenda to take on the BJP. Those who he will call on include Mamata Banerjee, Uddhav Thackeray, Sharad Pawar, Arvind Kejriwal and M K Stalin.
Arvind Kejriwal has already launched a national campaign. Sharad Pawar has cited his age as a factor against a PM-type move. Pass the salt, please, and take a large pinch of it.
Backgrounding this new unity attempt which currently and significantly does not involve the Congress, are ominous memories of the infamous Janata Dal which collapsed under the weight of its leaders’ ambitions. Nitish Kumar and KCR are clear that only a regional and rooted opposition can take on the BJP, and that eventually this attempt will have to involve the Congress, which is still no closer to resolving its bitter divides and its crisis of leadership. With a vote share of 20 percent in the last general election, the Congress cannot be benched from the Opposition.
While most Opposition leaders share a good equation with Sonia Gandhi, who is currently the head of the Congress, this does not extend to her son, Rahul Gandhi, who the Congress will insist on offering up for PM. But there is a new urgency to the Opposition trying to work without cross-purposes. “All these leaders want to be PM, but with the misuse of the investigative agencies on such a huge basis by the BJP, it pushed us together. No leader can deny that they need to survive to take on the BJP. It cannot be done from jail,” said a senior leader from Nitish Kumar’s party.
I spoke to seven Opposition leaders for this column and all were unanimous that the large scale misuse of the central investigative agencies such as the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) by the central government has turned into the real glue of Opposition unity. Virtually every leader of note has an Enforcement Directorate case registered against them, the latest being AAP’s Manish Sisodia in an alleged liquor scam.
Nitish Kumar has the age and experience to justifiably stake his claim for the country’s top job. Whether the others in the Opposition are able to stomach that will need to be worked out quickly. 2024 has begun.
(Swati Chaturvedi is an author and a journalist who has worked with The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times.)
Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.