Rahul Gandhi’s Kanyakumari-to-Kashmir Bharat Jodo Yatra and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s opposition unity campaign have gotten off to a rocky start. At least three powerful chief ministers—Mamata Banerjee, K Chandrashekhar Rao and Arvind Kejriwal—have expressed reluctance to work with the Congress in the run-up to 2024.
Rao travelled to Patna to persuade Nitish to form a front sans Congress. He argued that people still did not favour it, that regional parties have a stronghold in states, and that together, they could deny the ruling BJP a majority at the Centre. Besides, Rao reportedly pointed out that Congress is in a direct fight with his party Telangana Rashtra Samithi. He said it would be difficult for him to explain in Telangana whether he was fighting the Congress or partnering with it. Rao said the same to former Karnataka CM H D Kumaraswamy who met him in Hyderabad. Kejriwal has also offered similar arguments about working with Congress.
Nitish, however, believes there cannot be any meaningful opposition by excluding the Congress party. He feels that the regional parties cannot win a majority on their own. He has, therefore, favoured a grand alliance of parties not in the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. Nitish Kumar has not yet met Mamata Banerjee. But she has already made public her views on not allying with Congress. She had met several opposition leaders, including Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar and Shiv Sena head Uddhav Thackeray to forge a non-Congress front.
Pawar and Thackeray refused to play ball with Didi, saying the Congress was the BJP’s main challenger in many Indian states. They reasoned that the BJP cannot be defeated without help from Congress. RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav has echoed the views of Pawar, Thackeray and Nitish Kumar. The Congress is in a direct fight with the BJP in over half a dozen states. The party is also in the alliance government headed by Nitish Kumar in Bihar. The Left parties are also part of the Bihar grand alliance. Nitish Kumar is comfortable working with the Left and Congress. The same can, however, not be said about Mamata, KCR and Kejriwal. These leaders are likely to continue pushing for a non-Congress opposition front.