It's as good as official: Nitish Kumar wants to be prime minister of India in 2019. Leaders of his party, the Janata Dal (United) have begun saying it publicly, short of using the PM word.
The idea is to unite as many opposition parties as possible and officially declare Kumar as an official prime ministerial candidate.
Here are five reasons why this effort is doomed.
'Anti-Modi, Not Pro-Something'
Firstly, any such effort will be seen as anti-Modi, not pro-something. The very fact of opposition parties coming together would make it appear their sole purpose is to dethrone Narendra Modi. This would only help the BJP prime minister, who might say, "I want to remove poverty, they want to remove Modi," a la Indira Gandhi. Whether or not such a Nitish grouping calls itself a secular front, that is what it will be called. And secularism doesn't pull you enough votes to win.
Congress's Historical Baggage
Secondly, no matter how down and out the Congress party is, its historical baggage will not allow it to support a regional leader of another party as PM candidate. While the Congress agreed to be the third wheel of the cart in the Bihar election in 2015, Rahul Gandhi tried to play elder brother in Uttar Pradesh. Congress leaders would wonder if instead of a revival, they should really be contributing to further marginalisation of their party.
Support From Other Partners
Thirdly, we don't know if other parties will support him. Just sixteen months into his third term, Nitish Kumar has enough friction with his alliance partner Lalu Yadav and even the Bihar Congress that people wonder when the alliance is going to fall apart. Almost every regional leader aspires to win the third front lottery some day. Whether and how easily Mulayam, Akhilesh, Lalu, Mamata, Mayawati, Naveen Patnaik and others will support Nitish Kumar remains a big question. Even if these parties come together, it is likely to be a messy alliance full of friction, again giving voters the signal this coalition isn't a viable option for them.
Congress Will Overshadow Nitish
Fourthly, even if the Congress supports Nitish Kumar, it would overshadow the effort. The Congress would contest most Lok Sabha seats in such an arrangement. No matter how much of a presidential campaign Nitish Kumar puts up, the Congress would overshadow him. That's bad news because both the Congress and the Gandhi family are at a historic low in terms of appeal and credibility before voters. In Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand, the Congress as a pre-poll alliance partner proved to be a kiss of death for the regional parties it allied with. Dethroning Modi is possible only if (a) either the Congress sees a national revival in terms of its image, narrative and credibility or (b) the Congress vanishes away and is replaced by another pan-India party.
Nitish Kumar Himself
Fifthly, we don't know how well Nitish Kumar will work as a national leader. To be fair, he has a lot going for him. He is a three-time chief minister who defeated the Modi-Shah election machine in Bihar. Like Modi, he is an OBC politician with a clean image and is credited with having turned around his state. But Nitish as a national face may be over-estimating his popularity. Allying with Lalu Yadav, prohibition, giving signals that he may join hands with the BJP, worsening law and order in Bihar, not having a strong party organisation in his own state, not having any semblance of a party outside Bihar, not being able to win any election without an alliance partner – Nitish Kumar has enough drawbacks he might struggle with.