Is there any politician in India who can challenge Prime Minister Narendra Modi? If we consider there is one, how can this happen? Historian Ramchandra Guha has a suggestion, or rather what he calls a “fantasy” solution, for this: Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar as Congress President. In an interview to NDTV on Wednesday, Guha argued that Congress is a “party without a leader” and Kumar is a “leader without a party”. “If a friendly takeover of Congress party is organised by Nitish Kumar, then I think the opposition has a chance.”
Kumar is the leader of a small party Janata Dal (United) in Bihar, which cannot on its own challenge a national party like the BJP of Modi and Amit Shah. Kumar realises this and he has ruled himself out of the race to become opposition candidate to take on PM Modi in 2019 General elections. But Kumar is a respected leader across the country. Even Guha said, “Among Indian politicians, I have some respect for Nitish Kumar.” Consider for a few moment that the historian’s fantasy comes true and Kumar gets invited by the Congress top brass to take over the party. Who will be the happiest person then?
Modi and Shah have never shied away from sharing their vision of making India ‘Congress-mukt’. By ‘Congress-mukt’ they do not mean the total elimination of the Grand Old Party as it is simply impossible, considering the deep roots of the party across the country. Both Modi and Shah are no-nonsense politicians who always take measured steps. Even Guha said that with Modi and Shah “what you see is what you get.” So, do they talk nonsense when expressing their desire to see a ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’? No, they don’t. What they effectively mean is to see a “Gandhi family-mukt Bharat.” For Modi, Shah and the entire BJP hold the Gandhi family responsible for all the ills affecting the country — be it Kashmir or India’s unrealised potential in terms of development. They will have an instant reason to be happy if Nitish Kumar takes over the Congress.
Kumar as the leader of the opposition would be a win-win situation for Modi. Even after breaking all ties with the BJP, Kumar has not gone against all decisions of the Modi-led Centre in the last three years like other opposition parties, including Congress. Kumar has shown he doesn’t possess the herd mentality of opposing things for the sake of opposition. Even as the leader of the Congress, it is unlikely that Kumar would take on the Centre on every issue like the party under Sonia and Rahul Gandhi appears to be doing on a daily basis at present. This personality trait of Kumar may not go down well with the rank and file of the Congress.
Kumar is as shrewd as Modi or Shah. The Bihar CM is operating in a small state with a small party but has always shown his tendency to take right moves to remain popular and in power. Interestingly, both Kumar and Modi like to see things as they want, without compromise. So, in the contest of similar personalities, who will win? In a direct fight, even as the leader of the Congress, Kumar won’t match up to Modi’s popularity for the time being and that too in two years. Congress would still have to wait for years, find good causes to protest.
Both Modi and Kumar like to ban things. Even in opposing camps in New Delhi, they may find common issues to work together. One of them could be liquor ban across the country, which would sync with BJP’s apparent wish to impose a meat ban. Now, how many Congress old-timers would be happy seeing such chemistry of the opposites?
Lastly, Kumar may revive the Congress and also re-define the role of the opposition. If he does so, Modi may find in him the best ally. Indian politics doesn’t happen like this. So even Guha knows that this fantasy will never come true. “That’s not going to happen but as a Democrat that would be my fantasy,” the historian told NDTV.