Ramachandra Guha’s recent statement on making Nitish Kumar the leader of the national Congress Party has yet again sparked a debate on whether or not Congress will be able to revive its lost spark. On the 10 year anniversary of his infamous book “India After Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy”, Guha stated that the ‘terminal decline’ of the Congress party can only be stopped by a leadership change. Currently, the party is without a leading figure.
“Nobody has got any doubts that the Congress is not going to rise again anytime soon. Two years (to the next Lok Sabha election) is a long time in politics. If you get away with the Gandhi family in the leadership and if the Congress has a new leader, things can change. There is a genuine leader in India. That is Nitish Kumar. He is a leader without a party, the Congress is a party without a leader. If Congress gives him a chance to lead the UPA, it might have a future,’’ maintained Guha.
Going on, he pointed out the similarities between Nitish having no family burdens and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, thereby projecting a brighter future if he’s appointed as a leader of the oldest political party of India. Just like Modi, Kumar has never shied away from expressing his desires and getting what he wants. At the moment there seems to be no one in the opposition who can stand even a slight chance against Narendra Modi.
Kumar has always shown interest in the Prime Ministerial position and NDA choosing Modi over him as their candidate was a major reason behind the souring of the relationship between the two.
Kumar is as shrewd as Modi when it comes to what he wants. Primarily operating in a single state, Kumar has shown his potential time and again, making all the right moves and decisions.
The only possibility for Nitish to fulfil his yearning for the Prime Ministerial position is if he forms an alliance with the UPA, thereby creating a significant opposition to Modi.
The suggestion of appointing him as the opposition leader may make the NDA happy, but will not be taken easily by the Gandhi family, as it goes by Modi and Shah’s ideology of ‘Congress-free India’ – referring to the dissolution of the first family from India’s political arena.
“Now, if they have a new leader or leadership tomorrow, things could change. Two years is a long time in politics,” said Guha, referring to the next assembly elections.
Nitish Kumar relates himself to the socialist class of politicians, and learned his lessons in politics under the leadership of Jayprakash Narayan, Ram Manohar Lohia, and VP Singh. He was a part of JP Narayan’s 1974-77 movement and had proximity with Satyendra Narayan Sinha, a prominent leader of that era. Before serving as the chief minister of Bihar in 2005, Kumar was part of the union in Vajpayee’s cabinet from 1998-99 as the minister of railways and surface transport. He later resigned, taking responsibility for the Gaisal Train Disaster. Even in such a small stint he brought major reforms, such as internet booking, tatkal reservation, and opening a large number of railway ticket counters, which are still benefitting the masses.
Kumar leads a small party, Janata Dal (United), and has endeared himself to the Biharis. Post-2005, Bihar’s performance has been consistent with respect to the cumulative GDP, one of the highest in comparison to other states in that time frame. His socialist approaches bore profits by deputizing more than 100,000 teachers, guaranteeing that doctors worked in primary health care centres, providing electricity for at least 20 hours a day (from only four-five hours previously), building proper roads and highways even near villages, cutting down female illiteracy significantly, pivoting , a crime-ridden state by getting serious about lawbreakers and multiplying the wage of the normal Bihari.
Though he resigned in 2014 after his party’s below satisfactory performance in the assembly elections, he re-emerged shortly after Bihar underwent a political crisis in late 2014.
Kumar again claimed his seat in 2015 after forming a grand alliance, the ‘Mahagathbandhan’, with RJD and Congress, sweeping a clear win against BJP.
The Bihar CM enjoys a clean and corruption-free image which continues to be his USP. His alliance with RJD also has been a superficial one, and he does not necessarily conform to the party’s ideology and work, as made evident in the recent Bihar crisis where JD(U) asked deputy CM (and Lalu Prasad Yadav’s son), Tejashwi Yadav, to come clean about his role in the scandal. He has ensured, at every possible opportunity, that his party and government don’t come under any negative limelight. Advocating Kumar, Guha stated, “Among Indian politicians, I have some respect for Nitish Kumar.”
Guha has also been dismissive about Congress’s revival lately. Earlier this year, he openly shared his opinion on how Sonia Gandhi was too old and unwell to lead the party, and how the party’s command should be given to a younger, more energetic face. Rahul Gandhi seems sore to his eye as the famous historian has constantly questioned his political opinion and openly criticised his choice of profession. On the current organisational structure of the Congress, Guha said, “Rahul Gandhi would do himself, his party and the country the greatest favor if he chooses another profession.” He added, “Maybe we don’t need the Congress party maybe some other party will emerge.”
During his conversation with Barkha Dutt as part of the event, he also drew attention to how a single party system is not good for a democracy, and says that India should have adopted the western two-party model of politics, referring to the downfall of West Bengal and Gujrat under single party rules stretched over decades.
Kumar may be Congress’s last chance at revival but this remains a fantasy for now. “That’s not going to happen but as a Democrat that would be my fantasy,” the historian told NDTV.