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Why The Congress Must Support Nitish Kumar For Prime Minister, 2019

A fork in the road.

17/07/2017 2:34 PM IST | Updated 19/07/2017 10:31 PM IST
Adnan1 Abidi/Reuters
Bihar's chief minister and leader of Janata Dal United party Nitish Kumar gestures during an interview with Reuters in the eastern Indian city of Patna January 8, 2012.

When Narendra Modi became prime minister in 2014, the Bhartiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance did not have the numbers to elect whoever it likes as India's next president and vice president. The BJP-NDA's various election victories since then have given them the numbers to not care about the opposition.

The election result is a foregone conclusion, but that wasn't enough for the aggressive BJP. It has gone around trying to increase Ram Nath Kovind's victory margin. When the results are announced on Thursday, Kovind could be President with 70% votes.

The impact of the victory margin will be to further the perception that there's only one party in India today, the BJP, and only one leader, Narendra Modi. The opposition does not exist.

The Presidential elections thus present a fork in the road for all opposition parties, even all non-NDA parties. It will be another nail in the coffin for the Congress party, the chances of whose rising from the ashes like the phoenix are increasingly remote.

A one-party monopoly from panchayat to Parliament does not make for a healthy democracy.

With only two years to go for the 2019 general elections, opposition parties need to put a new fight for mere survival, leave alone defeating the BJP. This is a very important task. A one-party monopoly from panchayat to Parliament does not make for a healthy democracy.

As the saying goes, Bihar shows the way.

Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar was completely on the mark when he said the Congress was failing to set the agenda and the narrative for the opposition. It was only being reactive, he said, announcing support for the NDA nominee. When the Congress announced support for Gopalkrishna Gandhi for vice president, well before the BJP could announce their candidate, Nitish Kumar supported Gandhi.

That isn't proof the Congress party has pulled up its socks and is now on course to being a real opposition. As a rudderless, directionless Congress sorts out its leadership succession issues, it must acknowledge it is not in a position to lead the opposition. United or not, the opposition needs a credible face with an alternative narrative. Voters today don't even know what opposition parties stand for, what they are offering.

The only way for that to change is for the Congress to take a back seat, and announce Nitish Kumar as the joint opposition prime ministerial candidate for 2019. This must be done right away. This is very likely what Nitish Kumar wants, which is why he's been flexing his muscles and threatening to join Team Modi.

As a rudderless, directionless Congress sorts out its leadership succession issues, it must acknowledge it is not in a position to lead the opposition.

Sonia Gandhi's track record shows she is successful in stitching together coalitions and alliances. Surely, Mamata Banerjee may not be willing to back Nitish for PM, and the Aam Aadmi Party may not be willing to join a Congress-led coalition. These are the differences a Sonia Gandhi-led Congress could work to iron out.

Crucial to this is timing. If this is done six months before the 2019 elections, it won't have an impact. The ideal time to do it would be just after the vice presidential elections. The Congress will have to keep aside its ego to do this. Can it see the mirror? Can it read the writing on the wall?

A week is a long time in politics. Eighteen months is an aeon. An eighteen month-long anti-incumbency campaign led by Nitish Kumar could make a difference.

A week is a long time in politics. Eighteen months is an aeon. An eighteen month-long anti-incumbency campaign led by Nitish Kumar could make a difference. The BJP may still win 2019, but not as a walkover. A real opposition campaign led by a face, making it clear who and what they are offering to voters, could help create an alternative narrative and agenda. At least voters will have choice. And who knows it could even win, who can predict elections?

The way the Presidential polls have played out show once again the BJP means business in furthering a long-term one-party monopoly. It is a last and final wake up call for the opposition. The alarm won't ring again, it will be a long-term coma hereafter.

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