Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Battle for 2024: Who will emerge as leader of the opposition bloc | India News

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NEW DELHI: The 2024 Lok Sabha polls are still some way off and the BJP remains the odds on favourite to return to office with PM Narendra Modi’s popularity showing no signs of ebbing. That said, there is a realisation in opposition ranks that a unified front could still make a difference and with many parties in the crosshairs of investigating agencies, it is also a fight for their very existence.
Several opposition bigwigs have stepped up their bid to bring the disparate and directionless regional outfits to some kind of an arrangement and, in the process, take leadership of the united front. Here is a look at some of the key players and where they stand in the leadership sweepstakes:
Nitish Kumar
For many, one of the key reasons the Bihar CM broke up with the BJP again is his desire to have a shot at the PM’s post. At the helm in Bihar since 2005, with a short, self-imposed break in between, he might think his job is done in the state. Although he denies harbouring prime ministerial ambitions, hardly anyone believes him. He has been meeting various leaders and will only step up his engagements in the coming days.
What’s going for him: The incoherence in Congress and coming from a state which sends 40 MPs to Lok Sabha are his biggest strengths. By conventional logic, any opposition grouping would be led by the Congress by dint of its larger footprint and numbers but these are not normal times in the grand old party. Even if Congress emerges as the largest opposition party, there is little chance of others accepting its leadership and Kumar would hope the role falls to him. Long administrative experience both at the Centre and the state, a clean image, old associations with fellow leaders are factors in his favour. A good tally of seats in tandem with the RJD would put him in a good bargaining position.

What’s not: The flip-flop artist might find it difficult to win the trust of his new-found friends. Long years spent in the embrace of the BJP could come back to haunt him. A sub-par electoral performance could sink his candidature. Also, with the RJD in tow now, any creases in the feel-good Bihar story could derail his ‘Sushasan Babu’ narrative and take away his biggest selling point.
Mamata Banerjee
The Bengal CM has her fans and the way she swatted aside a belligerent BJP in the last state polls has added to her aura. She has also been making moves and has positioned herself as a staunch anti-BJP force. Bengal accounts for the third-largest number of seats in Lok Sabha at 42 and she will hope to do much better than last time when her Trinamool Congress won 23 seats but the BJP walked away with 17. A diminution of the BJP’s numbers in Bengal will add ballast to her charge.
What’s going for her: Banerjee’s street fighter image and fearlessness are her biggest strengths. Having staved off the BJP’s formidable challenge once, she will think she can do one better.
What’s not: Her maverick ways and impetuosity. The alleged involvement of TMC leaders in various scams and cases against her nephew could be a drag. Also, unlikely to be much of a draw outside her home state.
Arvind Kejriwal
On a high after the remarkable Punjab performance, the Delhi CM would like to believe he is at the front of the chasing pack. A decent outing in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh will fill him with more confidence. After going easy on Modi for a couple of years, he is back to taking on the PM at every opportunity and has spun his run-ins with the Delhi LG as proof that the BJP sees him as its principal pan-India rival.

What’s going for him: He is on to a good thing with his ‘health-education’ good governance model and is the only one among his peers who has a ‘success story’ to sell. Despite the BJP’s best efforts to paint him as corrupt, he is largely seen as clean. His party is the primary beneficiary of Congress’s implosion and anti-BJP votes accrue to him almost by default. Still viewed by his fans and neutrals as a different kind of politician despite nearly a decade in mainstream politics.
What’s not: For all his stellar show in Delhi assembly polls, the LS elections have seen his party swept away. There is nothing to suggest it could turn out differently the next time around. Even in Punjab, it is difficult to see AAP winning more than a handful of seats. There is also a widespread view that he is going too fast too soon. Ultimately, he may not have the numbers to even enter the fray.
A long shot at best, he was surprisingly the first off the blocks in the ‘unity’ campaign and has made trips to several state capitals. He has also been vocal in his criticism of the central government and PM Modi. His aggression is seen as a response to BJP’s rise in Telangana but he would nevertheless fancy his chances and let his son look after the state.

What’s going for him: Nothing much really, apart from hoping to be the consensus guy in the event of the big guns cancelling each other out. His fluency in Hindi could be a help though.
Rahul Gandhi
Included because he is the leader of the largest opposition party. For someone unable to make up his mind on taking charge of his own party, leading an unwieldy group seems implausible. Also, will be unacceptable to most opposition leaders. In the event of the Congress doing the unthinkable and ending up with a respectable number of seats, he might come into play. Even then, chances are that he might prefer the UPA arrangement and call the shots from behind.
Sharad Pawar
You never discount Pawar when it comes to power play. Though past his prime and heading a party with five LS MPs, he has a knack of being bang in the middle of most political manoeuvers. Nobody will be surprised if he pulls another rabbit out of the hat.

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