Nitish, Bihar and beyond

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    Bihar supremo Nitish Kumar’s super turn could catapult him to become the face of the opposition in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. As congratulations poured in from across the country for Nitish Kumar after being sworn in as chief minister for the eighth time, opposition leaders did not fail to mention how Bihar’s realignment would unite the opposition and how a united opposition would now last on the BJP in their Hindi heartland bastion.

    Nitish himself said those who won in 2014 should now worry about 2024. Analysts claim he has much greater acceptance from the opposition parties than, say, Mamata Banerjee or K Chandrashekar Rao, who have taken the lead to unite the opposition parties. Mamata has campaigned fiercely against Congress and the left, which would play a key role in deciding the face of the opposition. Their latest attempt to create a non-Congress front has not gone down well with opposition parties allied to Congress, such as the Nationalist Congress Party, Shiv Sena and the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha. As for K Chandrashekar Rao, his acceptability beyond Telangana has yet to be tested. Nitish, on the other hand, already has Congress and the left as allies in his new administration.

    Its appeal extends across the Hindi belt, which includes Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Haryana, Bihar and Jharkhand. Some of these states, such as UP, MP, Chhattisgarh and Bihar, have sizeable populations of Kurmis, a caste to which Nitish Kumar belongs. The BJP had swept these states in the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

    Kurmis are OBC and largely vote for the BJP except in Bihar where Nitish controls that chunk and in Chhattisgarh where this caste’s vote goes to Congress as Prime Minister Bhupesh Baghel is a Kurmi. Nitish’s projection as the opposition prime ministerial candidate will not only strain the BJP’s Kurmi vote bank, but also has the potential to unite all opposition parties.