Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar and Congress are allies in the state, as a part of the Mahagatbandhan. At the national level, the two made efforts to forge a common understanding against the BJP. But over the past two weeks, clear differences emerged. The first was on the issue of the presidential candidate, where Nitish Kumar chose to go with Bihar governor Ram Nath Kovind even as the rest of the Opposition put up former Speaker of the Lok Sabha Meira Kumar as a candidate. The Opposition even projected her as ‘Bihar ki beti’ to put Nitish Kumar in a spot, but he did not budge. Then, even as Congress boycotted the special midnight session to roll out the Goods and Services Tax, Janata Dal (United) sent a representative. This has now been followed by an escalating war of words, with Nitish Kumar himself placing the onus of this Opposition disunity on Congress.
All of this reflects a churning in Opposition ranks, with major implications for 2019. Two threads are clear. The first, as Nitish Kumar correctly pointed out, is Congress’ internal weaknesses. While credit is due to Sonia Gandhi for bringing leaders together on a common platform, the party has been unable to display leadership at the right time. If it had nominated the presidential candidate before the BJP came up with Mr Kovind, Nitish Kumar would have had no choice but to back it. If it had indeed nominated Meira Kumar, it would have put BJP on the defensive and Mr Kovind’s nomination would have been seen as a response. The Congress repeatedly has allowed BJP to set the agenda; it has delayed decisions; and it needs to do more to show leadership and magnanimity with others in the Opposition.