It is impossible for an individual to remain the Chief Minister of a state without mass base, organisation or backing of a big party. But Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has proved ‘nothing is impossible’ in politics. It speaks volumes for his immense resolve, astuteness and the importance he gives for his cultivated clean image.
Political observers were not actually surprised by Kumar’s strategy to change coalition partners overnight, although the speed may have taken some by surprise. Kumar first came into prominence when he broke away from the Janata Dal in 1994. That was when he had personality clashes with then Bihar Chief Minister Lalu Prasad and realised he needed to chart out an independent course.
A career minded Kumar made no pretensions about ‘ideology’ and aligned his Samata Party with BJP in 1996, with someone like George Fernandes in tow. That partnership lasted for 17 years. To date, Kumar made only one big political mistake. And that was listening to BJP veteran L K Advani to rake up Narendra Modi’s association with the Gujarat riots to declare that he was unfit to lead the National Democratic Alliance of which Kumar’s rechristened Janata Dal (United) was a member. He had miscalculated Modi’s clout and influence over the BJP and the RSS.
Having realised this late, Kumar had to bow out of NDA. He did not take the initiative to align with either the Congress or Lalu Prasad’s RJD but after the 2014 polls saw all three routed, they decided to join hands for the assembly polls. Kumar’s face, Prasad’s electoral base and the Congress glue did wonders in a year. The BJP ‘rath’ was halted, yet again, in Bihar.
But it was an unnatural alliance. Whereas Kumar had no qualms continuing with the BJP even after Gujarat, he was distinctively uncomfortable with Prasad, who was not just a mass leader but assertive and had his way.
It does not make for political honesty to sweep allegations of corruption against RJD’s first family by emphasising on the need of unity of all against the assault on the nation’s secular ethos by the RSS-BJP.
Yet, it was not any such honesty that made Kumar walk out of the Grand Alliance. He and Prasad could never work together. There was too much clash of personalities. While Kumar’s act has torpedoed the rudderless Opposition’s efforts to join hands, it has strengthened Modi’s hands for 2019. However, Kumar is likely to find that Modi, like Prasad, is also someone very difficult to get along. His best hope will be to make himself indispensable to the BJP. However, BJP is sure to push Kumar into a corner soon as it races to make itself the only national party with presence all over India. Suffice to say that one may substitute ‘Hobson’s choice’ with ‘Kumar’s choice.’
Pranab Mukherjee retired as President of India on July 25. On the same day, Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar wrote a piece in a national daily that reflected the collective desire of senior Congress leaders.
Aiyar hinted that it was not impossible for a retired President to make a comeback as the Prime Minister, although there are no precedents. He indirectly expressed his desire for Mukherjee to return to active politics. Evident in the piece is the fact that even Aiyar, the quintessential Rajiv Gandhi family loyalist, has no hope that the Congress would recover from its hopeless condition under the leadership of 46-year-old Rahul Gandhi, tipped to take over as the Congress President shortly.
That Rahul Gandhi cannot revive the Congress has been the general view among veteran Congress leaders since 2012, when he refused to become the Chief Minister candidate for UP and led the party to a disastrous rout after a weird campaign. Five years later, with the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi showing no visible signs of waning, even the most diehard Gandhi loyalist seems to have been convinced for the need of a practical option in 2019.
The piece that almost pleads Mukherjee to come back and save the Congress is aimed at sending a message to party chief Sonia Gandhi so that she would facilitate such an arrangement in 2019. It looks like Congress veterans have spoken through Aiyar. ‘If it comes from Aiyar, it is likely to get a positive consideration from Sonia Gandhi’, seems to be the wisdom behind such a move.
Congress veterans have run out of ideas and are clueless on how to deal with Rahul Gandhi who has been running a flop show for revival of the party with disastrous results. A ‘friendly public advice’ from one who is close to the family may be followed up by trying to convince Mukherjee on why he should return to active politics, should Sonia Gandhi be convinced.
Congress veterans know that Mukherjee can raise corporate funds easily and fighting polls depends on how much money a party can splurge. However, the idea of projecting him as the candidate around whom a consensus can be built for 2019 can be termed only as the ultimate desperate act of Congress veterans and it is unlikely to bear fruit for a number of reasons:
Mukherjee has excelled in parliamentary discourse and political manoeuvrings. He also commands political respect of parties across the spectrum. While these qualities would help someone to take on Modi in 2019, it doesn’t meet the primary criteria to defeat him. Modi has an Arun Jaitley to match Mukherjee’s skills. One primarily needs to have the oratory of a Lalu Prasad, combined with the street fighting skills of Mamata Banerjee to take on someone like Modi.
Even if Prasad and Banerjee volunteer to do this work for Mukherjee, they can be easily neutralised by central agencies that have already targeted them.
Then there is the question of whether Sonia Gandhi would trust Mukherjee. She respects him, but does she trust anyone else, other than Manmohan Singh and A K Antony, after allowing Narasimha Rao to become PM in 1991? Since it looks evident that her interest in ‘saving Congress and the nation’ was to ensure that her son becomes PM one day, it is unlikely that she would allow Mukherjee to be projected as the next PM candidate.
Moreover, age is a factor that works against Mukherjee. The retired President would be 84 in 2019, three years older than Morarji Desai when he had become PM in 1977. He would not have the energy to tour all over the country and may prefer the last impression not to be that of a desperate power hungry politician who failed.
( firstname.lastname@example.org)(Published on 31st July 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 31)