Talk Point: How does Nitish Kumar joining NDA affect the formation of a national opposition alliance?

A week after Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) formally joined the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), around 15 opposition parties are holding a massive rally in Patna to assert their political strength.

Kumar’s exit is seen as the first crack in what was billed to be a formidable opposition against the NDA. Now, Mayawati (BSP) has objected to the use of her image in the rally’s posters; and neither Sonia Gandhi nor Rahul Gandhi (Congress) are attending the Patna event.

So how does Nitish Kumar joining the NDA affect the plan of building a grand national opposition alliance? We ask experts.

The economic frustration is going to manifest in the upcoming elections and a united opposition is ready to hit the ground — Sudhindra Bhadoria, Bahujan Samaj Party

I have no hesitation in saying that by going with the NDA, Nitish Kumar has reduced himself to a small state leader who has no base. He has chosen to be with a man who had become the reason for his separation with NDA earlier. Given the political developments, there will be a polarisation of forces on both sides, setting the stage for a Mahabharat of sorts — the friends of BJP and their idea of divided India versus those who believe in India as an inclusive nation.

The BJP is deliberately trying to portray the opposition as a group of corrupt leaders to hide their own failures. Corruption is an issue for us too, but there are real issues on the basis of which BJP was elected that are being ignored now. The new India wants jobs, farmers want better minimum support prices, and businesses want a transparent and efficient system.

Instead, demonetisation followed by GST now has created an Inspector Raj. The economic frustration is going to manifest in the upcoming elections and a united opposition is ready to hit the ground. UP, Bihar and West Bengal have always been at the forefront of social struggles, students’, farmers’ and Dalit movements. There is a strong undercurrent brewing against the Modi government, especially among Dalits and minorities.

Nitish Kumar is now disliked by the very people who voted for him in 2015. Our fight is against an ideology and we are committed to the improvement of Dalit lives. We will definitely participate in a joint group against the BJP. The shape and size of the alliance may not be clear at present, but a strong front against the BJP will be visible very soon.

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The winners and the losers in 2019 are already known, what is not known is the exact tally — Sanjay Kumar, Director at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS)

Ever since Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister of the country, the search began in the opposition camp for a leader who can challenge him. As Rahul Gandhi had already lost the battle against Modi, the leadership had to come from outside. After the Delhi election result, Arvind Kejriwal emerged as a challenger, but the AAP was engulfed in various crises within, and the charisma faded away.

After the 2015 Bihar victory, Nitish Kumar rose as the face the opposition needed. He was the one with a clean image, had a positive track record of governance and seemed best-suited to mount a challenge.Now with him joining hands with the BJP, the opposition has lost its only chance to put a fight. The battle for 2019 is now very clear for everyone: the BJP looks to win it comfortably.

The opposition, which was already scattered will remain so without a face. There won’t be a combined national force because many of the stakeholders are parties with a strong presence in only one state. However, there could be strategic alliances on the ground in different states depending upon the willingness of the opposition parties. I would term it “unconventional alliances” as these parties have thrived on fighting with each other, be it the SP and BSP in UP, or the TMC and Left in West Bengal, or the Congress and BJD in Odisha.

The 2019 election will be about whether the BJP improves its tally or goes down a bit, whether Congress could improve its numbers or touches another low. The winners and the losers are fixed.

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The focus of opposition unity wouldn’t be a face, but a joint force of equal partners — Sanjay Nirupam, Congress

Nitish Kumar ditched the mandate given to him and moved to the other side. There could be a temporary impact on the united opposition but to say that Nitish was the face that every party was rallying around would be wrong. There are 17 opposition parties, including a section of JD(U), who are all working on a common agenda.

If we talk numbers, there are 193 Lok Sabha seats where Congress and the BJP are in a direct fight. Currently, BJP is ahead but even a small change in this scenario would be a gain for us and a loss for the BJP. There are another 350 seats where the BJP has to face a strong regional force, like Navin Patnaik in Odisha.

There are four states which will play a crucial role in deciding who will form the government in 2019 — UP, Bihar, West Bengal, and Tamil Nadu —which account for 201 seats. With SP, BSP, and Congress fighting together, the BJP is most likely to go below their best performance of 2014.

In Bihar, the BJP are bound to face troubles especially after the formation of a new government with JD(U). In a way, they have given a clear indication to anti-BJP voters to root for the Congress and RJD. The BJP has little to claim in West Bengal and no presence in Tamil Nadu. Even if they collaborate with the AIADMK, the anti-incumbency against the ruling party will come into play, especially after the power-sharing drama that is going on for the last few months in the state. In such a scenario, DMK and Congress, are on solid ground.

The focus of the opposition will not be on a face but it will be on a Congress-headed joint force, where every stakeholder will be like equal partner.

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Nitish was the weakest link in the opposition camp  in terms of vote base — Rajeev Rai, National Secretary and Spokesperson, Samajwadi Party

It is a good thing for the opposition that Nitish Kumar has walked away even before the real battle began. Imagine if he had become the face, he would have fought halfheartedly and thereby undermining all our hard work and efforts to defeat the BJP.

In terms of vote base and ground support, Nitish was the weakest link in the opposition camp. However, he had a face to convince a section of minorities and Dalits. Now that Nitish has embraced the BJP, the minorities and others are clear who to vote for. On the other hand, he has made the opposition stronger by making the choice clear for the people. I can only see gains and no loss in this development.

His defection has made the commitment of the joint opposition more meaningful and no one has a doubt about the realignment of regional forces. In all likelihood, SP, BSP, and Congress are going to fight the election together in UP and if it happens, BJP will slide in the elections. Even in the last assembly elections, our joint vote share is around 54 per cent, which could give the BJP a big jolt in the upcoming elections.

There are states like UP where the BJP showcased its best performance in 2014. In other words, they have nothing to gain and we have nothing to lose. They are bound to come down and we will do much better than the media expects us to.

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