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KCR Or Nitish? Who Will Be Opposition's PM Candidate?

By VIRENDRA KAPOOR
September 03, 2022 15:54 IST
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Like Nitish, Mamata and KCR have prime ministerial ambitions, but, unlike Nitish who has established a rapport with Sonia, both Mamata and KCR are cold towards the Congress president, points out Virendra Kapoor.

IMAGE: Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar felicitates Telangana Chief Minister Kalvakuntla Chandrashekhar Rao on his visit to Patna this week.

So it didn't take long for Nitish Kumar to reveal his prime ministerial ambitions.

That also explains why he broke with the Bharatiya Janata Party and teamed up with Laloo Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Dal to continue as Bihar chief minister.

Posters outside the Janata Dal-United office in Patna barely conceal the game plan to pitch Nitish as the challenger against Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi in the 2024 Lok Sabha poll.

Though he refuses to admit in so many words JD-U leaders have started openly weighing Nitish's chances as the front-line challenger to Modi as the candidate of the combined Opposition.

 

IMAGE: Nitish Kumar visits the Janata Dal-United office to inspect preparations for the JD-U's national executive and national council meeting in Patna on September 3 and 4, 2022.

In this regard, Nitish is set to meet Sonia Gandhi in the next few days.

Whether the mother in Sonia will allow her to support him for PM in preference to her son Rahul Gandhi is unclear, but Nitish is not letting that crucial factor come in his way to pursue his vaulting ambition.

Admittedly, a lot will depend on the attitude of various non-Congress leaders, especially Mamata Banerjee and Telangana's K Chandrashekhar Rao.

Both harbour prime ministerial ambitions, but, unlike Nitish who has established a rapport with Sonia, both Mamata and KCR are cold towards the Congress president, especially when both became chief minister by decimating the Congress.

Significantly, Nitish's party has amassed a mid-sized war chest of Rs 170 crores (Rs 1.7 billion) which, given that even in Bihar the JD-U is a smaller force than both the RJD and the BJP, is a considerable sum. But for Nitish to be able to mount a half-credible challenge to the cash-rich BJP, he will require a much bigger kitty.

Even if he tried to bolster his finances -- Bihar being one of the poorer states with hardly any industry or commerce -- it is unlikely to yield much more funds.

In any case, neither Mamata nor KCR is likely to step aside for Nitish to fulfill his ambition.

Mamata is on the back foot right now due to the alleged corruption of her close confidants, and the tell-tale evidence thrown up daily by the Enforcement directorate and the Central Bureau of Investigation, but there is no denying that she harbours prime ministerial ambitions.

IMAGE: KCR Rao being welcomed by Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav as Nitish Kumar looks on.

As for KCR, he was on a visit to Patna this week to meet Nitish.

Asked about throwing his hat in the prime ministerial ring, KCR parried the question. It was embarrassing with Nitish sitting beside him.

But make no mistake about it. KCR has started dreaming big.

A couple of weeks ago, his aides arranged to fly farmers leader Rakesh Tikait to Hyderabad. Since his return, Tikait has once again tried to mount an agitation against the Modi government on one or the other unaddressed farmers' grievances.

Quite apart from the number of other Opposition leaders nursing ambitions for the PM's post, Nitish's claim could suffer a huge setback should he fail to check the RJD component in his government from behaving true to type.

All in all, Nitish, whose political career is pockmarked with a series of betrayals beginning with George Fernandes and Laloo Yadav, may preen himself as a future prime ministerial candidate, but other contenders are unlikely to easily give him a free pass.

But this will not prevent him from trying. And should he not. Every bonafide citizen is free to become the PM as per the Constitution.

Columnist Virendra Kapoor -- former editor of the Free Press Journal and Onlooker magazine was jailed for his views during the Emergency.
You can read his earlier columns here.

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