Congress in a bind on alliance with Nitish

Arun Srivastava

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]fter Nitish Kumar had walked out of the ‘grand alliance’, Rahul Gandhi, then Congress general secretary, had accused him of sacrificing his credibility and rules for power. Power made a man lose his credibility, he had stated.

Annoyed with Nitish’s shifting of loyalty, Rahul had even remarked, “I knew about this planning of the BJP and the Janata Dal-United (JD-U) and it was under discussion for three to four months. Nitish Kumar has forgotten all the rules and regulations of politics.” He had also remarked, “Satta ke liye vyakti kuch bhi kar jaata hai, koi neeyam, credibility nahin hai.”

But, after taking charge of the presidentship of the party, it appears that Rahul has forgotten his previous stance on Nitish. Had it not been the case, his senior party man, Shakeel Ahmad Khan, would not have suggested that Nitish Kumar was a big leader and efforts should be made to bring his JD-U and all like-minded secular parties under the same umbrella.

Khan’s statement came after Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Tejashvi Yadav refused overtures from the close aides of Nitish to accommodate him in the ‘grand alliance’. In this backdrop, it, obviously, implied that he was speaking the party line. This sudden change in the stance and approach of the Congress is bizarre. How could a person who, until yesterday, was described as a “betrayer” and championed the cause of the BJP and its leader, Narendra Modi, be branded “secular”? This simply underlines the desperation that the Congress is feeling right now.

What is surprising is that Khan slammed Tejashvi’s stand, saying he “shouldn’t have said that the doors are shut for Nitish”. Obviously, he is echoing his master’s voice. One wonders what authority Khan has to slam Tejashvi Yadav? “It’s high time Tejashvi learnt to act maturely and mark his words. He should understand that the focus, at present, is not on the 2020 Bihar Assembly polls, but on the 2019 Lok Sabha elections,” Khan said.

Khan’s most preposterous action yet has been to seek an explanation from Tejashvi about this refusal to accommodate Nitish. “If doors can remain open for the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) allies Hindustani Awam Morcha-Secular (HAM-S) leader Jitan Ram Manjhi and Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) leader Upendra Kushwaha why should they be closed for Nitish Kumar?”

Such leaders as Khan have been primarily responsible for sounding the death knell for the Congress. They are driven by their own personal gains rather than the benefit of the party. While he is yet to spell out his electoral strategy and whether he would join hands with the secular forces, he has already fixed an appointment with BJP chief Amit Shah on July 12 possibly to discuss seat-sharing. Lalu Prasad has not commented on Khan’s proposal, but it has not gone down well with the Rashtriya Janata Dal.

Nitish’s manoeuvring to join the ‘grand alliance’ is nothing but a shrewd attempt to increase his bargaining power to claim more seats in the BJP-led NDA. When he meets Amit Shah, he is pretty sure to bargain hard on this score.

Khan’s remark has put the Congress in an awkward situation, to say the least. In the wake of this development, the top leaders of the RJD are toying with the idea of going it alone in the Lok Sabha elections if the Congress insists on Nitish’s return. However, they are confident that Rahul Gandhi will not allow such leaders as Khan to queer the pitch.

Tejashvi’s close relationship with the Congress president could salvage the situation. Some of the RJD leaders have even cautioned the Congress to maintain restraint as it is a small force in the state and must understand the poll dynamics.

The RJD leaders also refer to an earlier statement of Nitish, in which he had said, “The victory of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls was, anyway, a foregone conclusion, since nobody has the strength to take on the prime minister.” Nitish had made this statement only hours after the Janata Dal-United veteran, Sharad Yadav, had voiced his disapproval of the party’s alliance with the BJP.

(The writer is a political commentator)