Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar today met Indian National Congress (INC) leader Rahul Gandhi in New Delhi and, soon thereafter, the man who had said yesterday that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) would not get more than 50 seats in the 2024 Lok Sabha election said he had no prime ministerial ambition! Nitish Kumar reportedly discussed the current political situation in the country and ways to maintain the opposition unity as parties gear up for the general election of 2024. "There is a concerted effort to weaken regional parties. My effort is to unite the Opposition ahead of the General Elections. I have no intention of pitching myself as a prime ministerial candidate," Nitish Kumar told reporters.
This was Nitish Kumar's first meeting with Rahul Gandhi since his Janata Dal (United) [JD(U)] snapped ties with the NDA in Bihar and formed a Mahagathbandhan government with the RJD, INC and other parties.
Speculations about Nitish Kumar's ambition to rise to the national political level again — he was the railway minister in Atal Bihari Vajpayee's government — had started immediately after his break-up with the BJP. That still shows no sign of abating despite Kumar's latest assertion. Political observers see opposition disunity also in this coupled with Aam Aadmi Party's convener and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal launching his nationwide campaign. Further, just before the presidential election, Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao had planned turning his Telangana Rashtra Samithy into Bharat Rashtra Samithy along the lines of NT Rama Rao's bid to turn his Telugu Desam Party into Bharat Desam Party in the late 1980s.
While Nitish Kumar had said that he wished to meet the leaders of his new Mahagathbandhan in Delhi, he also declared that his Delhi visit was meant to bring all the opposition leaders under one umbrella — a task West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had undertaken in 2019, only to fail in the venture.
Nitish Kumar wants to meet Arvind Kejriwal too while he has sought a meeting with HD Kumaraswamy, the chief of the Janata Dal (Secular), who ended the alliance with the INC after their government in Karnataka fell through. The formation of the INC-JDS alliance in 2018 to keep the BJP out of power in Karnataka had marked the efforts to form the opposition front.
Nitish Kumar is likely to meet Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar, who was the prime mover in the efforts to unite the opposition in 2019 as well. The Bihar chief minister is meeting Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav too, another leader seen as upset with the INC. Nitish Kumar wants to meet leaders of the communist parties also, as they are providing outside support to his government in Bihar.
According to sources in Nitish Kumar's JD(U), the Bihar chief minister is scheduled to visit Maharashtra, Haryana and Karnataka soon on his 'Mission Opposition'.
Now, as it had happened with Mamata Banerjee in 2019 and again during the presidential election, the politician who tries to stitch together a grand opposition alliance is naturally seen as a claimant of the prime ministerial candidacy against Narendra Modi.
Last week, the visit of Rao to Patna had begun the process. KCR, once a proponent of a non-Congress-non-BJP front, dropped a hint that he was ready to think fresh. Asked about the matter, Nitish Kumar had said, "Why Third Front? We are working on the main front."