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POLITICAL BUZZ OVER NITISH-SONIA MEETING
Realising the importance of Congress’ role and position in spearheading an Opposition movement to take the lead in creating a front against the BJP, in a crucial move, on Sunday, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar met Congress president Sonia Gandhi. This was apparently a move to send out a message to a section of Opposition parties who are already in the process of working in this regard. It was Nitish’s attempt to bring them under one umbrella. This crucial meeting with Sonia took place days after NCP supremo Sharad Pawar said that TMC chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was ready to bury differences with the Congress in the national interest. While agreeing that a credible anti-BJP front was not possible by keeping the Congress out, some Opposition leaders have also said that the “defunct” UPA be revived and leadership positions like that of the convenor be given to regional leaders in order to make the alliance broad-based. Nitish suggested that Sonia should take the lead and try to place all parties on one platform with a common agenda. “Together, we met and held discussions with madam and you know that we believe several parties of the country should unite and work together for the country and its progress. We discussed all these issues… But now elections for their party’s (the Congress’s) president are underway… She will say something, finally, after all that,” Nitish told reporters after the meeting with Sonia. Nitish, probably has realised that an Opposition front currently without the presence of Congress, would not be the right formula to take on the might of the Saffron party and hence he met Sonia. “The BJP has to be ousted to save the country. Everyone has to unite, like we came together in Bihar, and send the BJP packing. It has found a response across the country. We are together and we requested Soniaji that you (the Congress) are the largest party… aap isme sab ko bulaiyiye (you call everyone for this). Together we will sit and talk and send off the BJP,” Lalu said.
‘OPPOSITION’ IN OPPOSITION
While the Aam Aadmi Party has always maintained its distance from such a front, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) and INLD have been in favour of a non-Congress coalition. The Opposition equation is quite mind-boggling. The Congress is one of the main rivals of the TRS and INLD in Telangana and Haryana, respectively, while the Left is not willing to share the stage with the Congress in Kerala and with the TMC in Bengal. However, Pawar’s statement that Mamata was ready to work with the Congress makes it clear that considerable groundwork has already been done to iron out differences. Asked about parties like AAP, Nitish said: “Vichar ekta ka hi hai (the thinking is of unity)… there is no issue in that. But to say something, kahan, kahan kaun, kaun (where and who), that will take some more days,” he said. Meanwhile, Nitish and Sonia meeting incidentally took place hours after several Opposition leaders, including Nitish and Lalu’s son Tejashwi, shared the stage at an INLD event in Haryana’s Fatehabad to mark the 109th birth anniversary of the late Choudhary Devi Lal, the former Deputy Prime Minister. The Congress was not invited for the rally.
GROWING IMPORTANCE OF THE KURMIS
With the political visibility in the national arena of Nitish Kumar growing, ever since he severed ties with the BJP and joined hands with Lalu Prasad, the OBC Kurmi community, to which Nitish Kumar belongs has hogged the limelight. The Kurmi community is a community smaller than the Yadavs. With Nitish Kumar’s recent political decision, the political aspiration of the Kurmis has gained prominence recently and Yadavs (with whom the Kurmi never had a bonhomie), for the first time are willing to accept them as “elder brothers”… and if the NitishLalu bond grows stronger the Yadav-Kurmi equation might worry the BJP and the Saffron party immediately has to do something in regards to social engineering in the states of UP and Bihar. Kurmis are a landowning farming community whose status varies from state to state. Unlike the Yadavs, the Kurmis use a variety of surnames like Patel, Verma, Sachan, Gangwar, Katiyar, Baiswar, Jaiswar, Mahto, Prasad, Sinha, Singh, Pradhan, Baghel, Chaudhary, Patidar, Kunbi, Kumar, Patil, Mohanti, Kanaujiya, Chakradhar, Niranjan, Patanwar, and Shinde, etc. Recently, train services of South Eastern Railway (SER) were affected in two of its divisions as Kurmis have been blocking two railway stations in West Bengal for three days. The Kurmis, demanding Scheduled Tribe status for the community and inclusion of the Kurmali language in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution, launched the agitation at various rail stations in West Bengal, Odisha and Jharkhand. Kurmi’s were not included among the communities classified as ST in the 1931 census, and the community members were again excluded from the list of STs in 1950. However, in 2004, the Jharkhand government recommended that the Kurmi community be added to the list of STs rather than Other Backward Classes (OBC). Meanwhile, political analysts will keenly watch Nitish Kumar’s movements in his bid to create an atmosphere to get as many parties under the same umbrella to create an Opposition front.
THE VIEWS EXPRESSED BY THE AUTHOR ARE PERSONAL
ROBIN ROY The writer is Senior Journalist and former Managing Editor, First India