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Opposition Quandary

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Has the latest messiah of ‘opposition unity’, Nitish Kumar, forgotten the fundamentals of how he rose to power in Bihar? The leaders who have dominated politics in that state came from the JP movement, which was an idealistic expression of subaltern empowerment through caste identity. Bhumihar domination was countered through Mandal mobilisation, leading to the emergence of Lalu Yadav from among the more numerous Yadavs. The other, less dominant OBCs, as represented by Nitish Kumar’s JD(U), over time, found space in the electoral spectrum by allying with ‘other forces’ to balance the numbers. Till recently, this comprised the BJP and its Hindutva plank.

As such, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s latest tie-up with Lalu Yadav’s RJD is much like the lamb lying with the wolf. Their respective votebanks do not sync. Present day RJD leader, Tejashwi Yadav, will walk the talk for as long as the present configuration of the state assembly keeps the BJP out of power. Some kind of seat adjustment may be made during the elections, but there is no doubt that a large majority of the tickets will go to RJD candidates. It is almost a certainty, however, that RJD votes will not transfer to the JD(U) – the grassroots animosity is too strong. Nitish only needs to look at Mayawati’s experience with the Samajwadi Party.

It is possibly in anticipation of this situation that Nitish Kumar seems to be trying for a ‘national’ role in the attempt to remain politically relevant. Tejashwi may be willing to concede space if the ED and CBI, etc., can be kept off his family’s back through a Nitish managed coalition of the parties presently in the opposition. It is a long shot but no harm in trying.

Sadly for Indian politics, almost every leader of the opposition is motivated by just such considerations of survival, instead of having a credible vision for the nation’s future. The BJP, on its part, knows that for every caste, group or community there is another that has radically opposite interests at the grassroots. Without a larger cause that transcends the animosities, these differences can be easily exploited. This is exactly the strategy being adopted in Karnataka. Others before Nitish, such as Akhilesh Yadav and Mamata Banerjee, have attempted to present the unifying formula but have failed to ignite people’s interest. The situation is made worse by the fact that the ‘natural’ glue to opposition unity, the Congress, has only a Rahul Gandhi to offer. Kowtowing to him would only mean surrendering their political bases in their home states. So, where does it leave the opposition?