When Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar was part of Grand Alliance with RJD and Congress, he had a ready response to relentless queries from media on his prime ministerial ambitions: “Those who dream of becoming prime minister end up losing chief minister’s post without ever realising their prime ministerial ambitions.” Therefore, Nitish was happy where he was, at the helm of his state.
In Nitish, liberals-secularists saw a potential challenger to Modi in next parliamentary election but all such hopes and speculations came to an abrupt halt in July 2017 when Bihar chief minister and JD(U) chief rejoined hands with BJP and became part of Narendra Modi-led NDA.
Nitish’s stock response has become relevant in light of two political developments, one in north India and the other down south: First, former Uttar Pradesh chief minister and BSP chief Mayawati extending her support to arch rival Akhilesh Yadav's Samajwadi Party in Gorakhpur and Phulpur bypolls to counter BJP. Second, Telangana chief minister K Chandrashekar Rao (KCR) reviving the worn out idea of a third front at the national level.
One does not know whether Mayawati and KCR going public with their respective ideas in the immediate aftermath of BJP's stupendous electoral performance in three North East states was just coincidence or part of a panicked reaction (at least in Mayawati's case).
On the surface, the situation for Mayawati and KCR is different: While the four-time Uttar Pradesh chief minister is facing an existential crisis and fighting a grim battle for political survival, KCR, first chief minister of newly created Telangana state is in a position of strength. But they share a common goal: Defeating BJP at local and national level. Mayawati, who has had prime ministerial ambitions, had for long kept the two national parties — depending on whether the BJP or the Congress was in power at the Centre — on tenterhooks with her whims and fancies.
Today, she is on margins in both national politics and state politics. Mayawati has only 19 seats in 402-member Uttar Pradesh Assembly. She failed to win even a single seat for BSP in parliamentary election. The party has no seats in the Lok Sabha and just five seats in the Rajya Sabha. However, with impending retirements those numbers will gradually reduce.
The BSP does not have the strength to send any member to the Rajya Sabha on its own. Mayawati has offered assistance to Akhilesh for bypolls in two parliamentary constituencies in exchange for support for her or her nominee's candidature for next month’s Rajya Sabha biennial poll.
Akhilesh’s father and Samajwadi Party patron Mulayam Singh Yadav was three-time Uttar Pradesh chief minister and nursed prime ministerial ambitions. Today, his party has only five MPs in Lok Sabha and 47 MLAs in 403-member Uttar Pradesh Assembly. The party is in shambles, and in its fight for survival, it is looking for an alliance with its biggest rival BSP. In addition to Akhilesh and Mayawati, Rahul Gandhi is also desperate to reclaim lost ground. For the three of them, there is a grim realisation that they can’t fight individually.
Mayawati and Akhilesh have perhaps not considered flip side of their new found friendship: What if they lose to BJP in these bypolls despite a united front? In contrast to a tired Mayawati or a retired Mulayam, KCR is a fresh face. While his third front idea, of a non-BJP, non-Congress alternative is completely worn out, he is new. Ahead of 2014 parliamentary elections there had been too many open and secret meetings of some regional satraps and Left Front leaders over possible formation of a third front, but it could never get past their mental drawing board.
The Left Front, one permanent constituent of the third front idea, is down and out. No one knows who the leader of the CPM is: Officially, Sitaram Yechuri is party chief, but he is not in control of the party. The ideas of Yechuri and his supporters: His re-nomination to Rajya Sabha or aligning with Congress in upcoming elections have all been rejected by the party.
KCR has every right to be happy, at least for now, that his third front idea and him playing a pivotal role in non-BJP, non-Congress formation found instant support from Trinamool Congress chief and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi and Jharkhand Mukti Morcha chief Hemant Soren. KCR is not known for governance. In fact, he's mostly been in the news for the wrong reasons. He's never campaigned outside his state. But, in time to come, KCR may consider letting the country know of his oratorical skills and organisational leadership acumen.
He should also remember that Mamata Banerjee too, and at least a section of her supporters, saw her as future prime minister and she'd campaigned against Modi in Delhi after demonetisation and elsewhere during elections. The results of her campaigns against Modi is known to all. Modi, meanwhile, can pat himself on the back. He's presented himself with such power and strength that his rivals have been forced to join hands to keep themselves afloat.
KCR is the newest player to the game. He has let it be known that he has developed an appetite to challenge Modi at national level. Going by instances of other prime ministerial aspirants, it looks as though he will learn his lessons in due course.
Updated Date: Mar 05, 2018 20:51 PM