What Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has said on Monday should not surprise anybody. Nitish created some headlines with his press conference and may have caused some uproar within the Janata Dal United, but outside the party, everybody already knows what he means. Right from social media to the dusty battlefields of assembly polls in various parts of the country, one can find a very polarised political atmosphere in which the population seems clearly divided in their staunch support or hard opposition to the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre. The sense all over is that the main opposition party in the country is failing drastically to fill the opposition space and looks very vulnerable and weak giving a feeling that BJP is the only option now left in the country!
Where is the Congress party, is the question most farmers, salaried employees, traders and citizens would like to ask if they feel that they are being subjected to higher taxes, unfair new laws and lack of good governance, which was promised three years ago in the face of rising frustration under the Congress-led UPA rule.
Farmers in Maharashtra feel that their rural credit system has been ruined, traders feel that they are being harassed by tax authorities, urban salaried classes feel that they have never faced this kind of job insecurity before, which they are facing now, yet they have no party or leadership to go to which will take up their cause. And this is where the Congress is seen to be failing badly.
This frustration is not felt only by the common public but also by leaders who are hoping that the Congress would take some kind of lead and some concrete steps. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, on Monday, reiterated his criticism of the Congress as the weakest link in the opposition and urged it to take the lead, as ‘a big party in setting an alternative narrative’ for the next general election.
“Just talking of unity among opposition parties is not enough,” the Chief Minister said, adding, “There must be a narrative - not just in reaction to what the BJP offers, but an alternative narrative. Punching in a new round of support for the Centre that’s likely to torment his allies, the Chief Minister said, “We fully support the GST tax reform. Any problems at the beginning will be ironed out.”
His vote of confidence comes as Lalu Yadav and the Congress, among others, have faulted the Centre for rushing to roll out, at midnight on July 1, India’s biggest tax reform.
Nitish said that the Congress, through lethargy and inaction, has heavily dented the impact of a large league of opposition parties, which he helped to bolt together. As examples, he cited the Congress’ mishandling of alliances ahead of elections in states like Assam and its dithering over who to nominate as the opposition’s candidate for the President of India. In a swipe at Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi, the Chief Minister said that at a public event in February, he had stated, in the presence of Mr Gandhi, that the Congress is ‘a large party and has the responsibility for leading the opposition’s narrative’.
Nitish Kumar’s approach to the election for President has led to verbal sniping with his two allies in Bihar - the Congress and Lalu Yadav. Ghulam Nabi Azad of the Congress enraged the Chief Minister last week by suggesting that Nitish Kumar benefits from ‘different principles that lead to different decisions’.
Though Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav have, despite pointed remarks about each other, professed that the partnership in Bihar is rock-steady, top sources from both teams cede that there’s a mood of foreboding. Lalu Yadav’s two sons, both ministers in Nitish Kumar’s government, are being investigated by central agencies for alleged corruption. The Chief Minister, never pleased with their performance, views their scandals as unacceptable heavy-lifting for his government. But he has also assessed that the opposition’s grouping of 17 parties has so far shown little flair for strategising against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s credibility and popularity, and may, therefore, wish to cut his losses before 2019.
In November, he alone among senior opposition leaders supported the PM’s shock move to ban high-denomination notes, correctly gauging that the poor were convinced that the reform would, as the PM declared, effectively fight corruption.
Nitish is not the only national leader, who has spoken out about the Congress party’s perceived political lethargy. The other prominent leader, who has hinted recently at the fact that the Congress’ lack of action is Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) Chief Sharad Pawar. On a public platform in Pune, Pawar just over a month ago openly said that Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has to be more consistent if the country is needed to trust him as the next challenger to the BJP. “After all, the Congress Party is the largest opposition party in the Lok Sabha and if there is any opposition unity planned or thought of, it has to be initiated by the Congress party,” Pawar said in Pune. He hinted that the party and its leader are not showing enough initiative to take that leadership role and march.
It’s true that no major elections are underway in the country and Congress party may be bidding its time before the next round of action. But the way BJP prepared grounds two years ahead of 2014 polls and launched various agitations against the government all the time in the two or three years before polls in a bid to create an anti-establishment atmosphere was a master strategy. The Congress is not seen even thinking of anything close to that.
Barring a few exceptions, the party seems mainly riddled with selfish, self-centred bunch of leaders, who are not able to think anything unconventional, are stuck in caste politics and are bankrupt of ideas. And unless things drastically change, with this kind of opposition to fight, the BJP will only have a cakewalk next polls.