Cong or Third Front? Nitish plays his cards close to his chest for 2024

"The idea is to unite all opposition parties against the BJP. KCR is making efforts and so is Rahul Gandhi. The actual aim is to stop the BJP from coming back to power in 2024."

Patna: Despite the success of the Bharat Jodo Yatra, the opposition leaders in Bihar are not revealing their cards to either go with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi or the possible third front that Telangana chief minister K Chandrashekhar Rao is trying to form for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

Bihar has a coalition government of seven parties headed by chief minister Nitish Kumar including deputy CM Tejashwi Yadav of the RJD and supported by the Congress, the Left, and Hindustani Awam Morcha.

Nitish Kumar admits that challenging the Bharatiya Janata Party in 2024 would not be possible without Congress. Still, he is not completely sure about the leadership qualities of Rahul Gandhi despite the good response to the Bharat Jodo Yatra.

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He has also decided to send senior leader Lalan Singh to Telangana for the opening of the new Secretariat building and is trying to keep both options open. Nitish Kumar earlier advocated an all-parties meeting to prepare a common plan to challenge the BJP in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.

At present, KCR is giving an impression of a non-BJP, non-Congress regional parties alliance to strengthen their position in their states. The idea is to make their bargaining position stronger with the Congress party post the Lok Sabha polls in 2024. Nitish Kumar probably does not agree with this formula as the chances of a division of votes are strong and the BJP will take advantage of it. Hence, Kumar is taking a balanced approach at present.

He is sending Lalan Singh as his representative to Hyderabad to keep the option open for a third front and is also waiting for the response of the Congress after the Bharat Jodo Yatra. The Telangana chief minister’s office has also confirmed that Bihar deputy CM Tejashwi Yadav is also coming to Hyderabad on February 17 for the inauguration of the new Secretariat building.

After the formation of the Mahagathbandhan government in Bihar, Nitish Kumar had taken the initiative to unite the opposition parties. He visited Delhi and met leaders of the opposition parties including Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi. At that time, these two leaders had not given a robust response to Nitish Kumar. Even the photographs of Sonia Gandhi with Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad Yadav were not put in the public domain.

This could be the reason why Nitish Kumar and Tejashwi Yadav were invited by the Congress party to participate in the flag hoisting ceremony at Lal Chowk in Srinagar after the conclusion of the Bharat Jodo Yatra but these two leaders neither went there nor sent their representatives.

For the RJD, as it is part of the seven parties alliance, the political interests of Tejashwi Yadav are intertwined with Nitish Kumar. The RJD is considered very close to the Congress party and Sonia Gandhi and it will be interesting to see the developments when Lalu Prasad returns to Patna.

RJD national vice-president Shivanand Tiwari said: “There is no doubt that the Bharat Jodo Yatra is a big success for Rahul Gandhi as well as the Congress party. They are now thinking that the Congress would become a serious option against the BJP. Rahul Gandhi, through Bharat Jodo Yatra, managed to shed his “Pappu image” foisted by the BJP.”

Tiwari continued: “The people of the country are considering Rahul Gandhi as a serious leader but he himself and the Congress party are showing arrogance as well. Rahul Gandhi has said the thinking of regional parties would not become national. He has also taken the name of SP chief Akhilesh Yadav. Congress senior leader Jairam Ramesh said that the fulcrum of the opposition parties will be Congress in the 2024 Lok Sabha election. These statements have sent out the wrong signals to the regional parties.”

The RJD leader noted that the “Congress is a national party in the country but it has to give respect to regional parties as well. If you comment like this, why would regional parties go to Srinagar? You have to respect the regional parties as well and bring them on one platform. The Congress has to understand why regional parties emerged in the states.”

“There was a provision of reservation for OBCs in the Kelkar committee report in 1953 but the Congress party has not implemented it. Even in 1989, former PM Rajiv Gandhi spoke against the Mandal commission and then Vishwanath Pratap Singh had promised the Mandal commission implementation if he became the PM of the country. Then regional parties emerged in the country.”

He concluded by saying: “The regional parties are demanding respect in their own state where they are in a strong position. They do not want seats in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh and other states. In the last 2020 assembly election in Bihar, the Congress had contested on 70 seats and won only 19. PM Narendra Modi was doing three rallies in a day and Rahul Gandhi did only two. This was an indication of how serious you were.”

Ajit Sharma, Congress CLP leader in the Bihar Vidhan Sabha, told IANS: “The Congress party has only one motive and that is to unite the opposition parties in the country. Rahul Gandhi has got success through the Bharat Jodo Yatra. The Congress had invited leaders of the opposition parties to Srinagar but who came and who did not is a different thing. The regional parties may have their own political compulsions and hence they stayed away from it.”

Sharma added: “The core issue in the country is price rise, unemployment, farmers issues which need to be addressed. The BJP is failing on these. PM Narendra Modi had promised two crore jobs every year and Rs 15 lakh cash in the bank account of every individual, where are those promises. Compare the current inflation with the UPA government. The Congress party believes in people centric policies.”

Madan Mohan Jha, MLC and former state president of the Congress told IANS: “The party always thinks about uniting the opposition parties and it is doing it. As far as the Bharat Jodo Yatra is concerned, it was not a political Yatra of the Congress party.”

“The BJP has created differences in the society and the Yatra was to unite the people of the country. So, those who are having an anti-BJP ideology, will come together in the future. The Congress party will also take the initiative as well.”

Commenting on the matter, RJD national spokesperson Mritunjay Tiwari said: “Nitish Kumar is currently busy in the Samadhan Yatra and he has a pre-scheduled programme. Tejashwi Yadav has loads of work in Bihar. Hence, they did not go to Lal Chowk in Srinagar.”

“The idea is to unite all opposition parties against the BJP. KCR is making efforts and so is Rahul Gandhi. The actual aim is to stop the BJP from coming back to power in 2024.”

Nikhil Anand, national general secretary of the BJP’s OBC wing and one of the party’s national spokespersons, said: “Rahul Gandhi has completed his ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ which is basically a ‘Congress Jodo Yatra’, through which he wants to have larger acceptance among his partymen. The key opposition leaders have avoided joining his Yatra because they all know that if he had enough leadership talent and quality, why did he run away from accepting the Congress president’s post?”

Continuing with his criticism, Anand added: “The other reason is that every opposition leader wants the other to come under their umbrella but no one is ready to follow suit and stand behind the other. The opposition leaders are now like many fused bulbs, who can’t match the magical light of PM Modi even if they are collected together. There is no match to the charismatic leadership of Narendra Modi in India.”

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