Reluctant Leaders: The Nitish Kumar and Mallikarjun Kharge Story

As the opposition INDIA alliance prepares for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections in 2024, the fate of the coalition hangs in the balance with ongoing struggles in appointing key leaders. The reluctance of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and the complexity of alliances within the opposition bloc raise questions about the alliance’s prospects.

Kharge’s Appointment and Challenges with Nitish Kumar

Recent developments indicate that Mallikarjun Kharge’s appointment as the chairperson of the INDIA bloc is likely to move forward, with sources revealing that consensus emerged on his name during a meeting on Saturday. However, the task of convincing Nitish Kumar to take on the role of the alliance’s convenor remains daunting, as the JD(U) supremo seems hesitant to embrace the position. It’s important to note that these positions do not necessarily indicate a prime ministerial candidate for the bloc.

Sources suggest that the initial consensus on Nitish Kumar as the convenor has waned, as a representative of the JD(U) conveyed during a virtual meeting that the Bihar CM does not consider himself an aspirant for the position. A key reason for Nitish Kumar’s reported withdrawal is the concern that some leaders, particularly Rahul Gandhi, believe his appointment may not sit well with Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee.

Fractures and Disappointment

The divisions within the alliance, along with Nitish Kumar’s disappointment over his perceived lack of acknowledgment as the alliance’s architect, have sparked speculation about the Bihar CM’s diminishing interest in the INDIA coalition. This development is seen as a victory for the BJP, which has consistently dismissed the opposition bloc as ineffective.

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Initially, Rahul Gandhi and other Congress leaders hoped that Nitish Kumar’s role as the convenor would bolster the alliance’s challenge to the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the Hindi belt. Additionally, the appointment of Mallikarjun Kharge as the chairperson was expected to enhance the alliance’s outreach to the southern region and Dalit communities, strengthening the bloc’s advocacy for a country-wide caste census.

Challenges and Unresolved Issues

While some leaders, including JMM chief Heman Soren, floated the idea of Rahul Gandhi as the chairperson, the suggestion was met with silence, indicating the competitive dynamics at play within the alliance. The chairpersonship ultimately fell to Kharge, perceived as a ‘safe’ choice.

Despite the potential benefits of having a North Indian convenor and a Dalit South Indian chairperson, the INDIA bloc faces challenges with multiple stakeholders, as evidenced by the absence of key leaders like Mamata Banerjee and Akhilesh Yadav at the recent virtual meeting. Differences on seat-sharing agreements between the Congress and TMC in West Bengal, as well as the Congress and SP in Uttar Pradesh, further highlight the unresolved issues within the alliance.

Discontent and Unified Goals

Prior to the meeting, a TMC source expressed the party’s commitment to the alliance’s goal of defeating the BJP while emphasizing the need for compromise and understanding the ground reality in Bengal. Furthermore, the launch of the Congress’s Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra from Manipur has also stirred discontent within the alliance, as other parties feel that joint rallies should take precedence over solo marches that spotlight individual leaders.

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As the INDIA alliance navigates through these challenges, it remains to be seen how the coalition will address internal divisions, strategic alignments, and the overarching goal of presenting a formidable opposition to the ruling BJP in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

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