Opposition attempts for a Federal Front to face BJP in 2024 continue

With top leaders from Bihar, Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad Yadav calling on Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi, days before she is set to relinquish her post, speculation has begun in political circles regarding their visit. It is well known by now that Nitish Kumar could be the possible face of a proposed Federal Front before the 2024 Parliamentary polls and has made it clear that he shall be contesting for Lok Sabha, leaving the State for Tejasvi Yadav, his deputy. This assurance has led to a patch up between Lalu and Nitish, who had virtually started their political journey together, way back in the 1970s when the J.P.Movement was gaining momentum. It is evident that they realise that since the Gandhis were not contesting the Congress organisational elections, they have excluded themselves from the leadership role of a united front against the BJP. The new Congress president, would be no position to lead the Opposition formation, since he would have to on one hand, save his position, and on the other ensure that the party does well in the big battle. Sonia was the UPA Chairperson and oversaw the working of the Manmohan Singh government. However, with her failing health, she has decided to take the back seat for a while and all decisions on her behalf, even when announced by her, are taken by Rahul Gandhi. With the Congress in no position to do hard bargaining, it is unlikely that it shall be leading the proposed front. This is in contrast to 2003 where at the Shimla Conclave, Sonia had given a call to other opposition parties to join hands with the Congress to oppose the NDA government led by Atal Behari Vajpayee. At that point of time, she was assisted by a number of Congress leaders, most notably, Pranab Mukherjee, Arjun Singh and Makhan Lal Fotedar. At present, the Congress does not have many leaders in the advisory capacity, who have the gravitas, and therefore, most of the decisions seem to be taken in a hurry without much application. Rahul’s team, does not command the same respect as the Sonia’s team of 2003. It is significant to recall that when Sonia Gandhi decided not to become the Prime Minister in 2004 after the defeat of the NDA government, Lalu Prasad Yadav, sent a message that the leader of the UPA would be chosen by all the constituents. However, Fotedar stepped in and made it known to the former Bihar CM that since the Congress was the largest party, it is Congress alone which shall decide on who the leader of the UPA should be as also the next Prime Minister. Nitish and Lalu in the present context believe that the credentials of those who are outside the Congress fold to take the lead, were stronger. Although West Bengal Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee and Maharashtra strongman, Sharad Pawar are expected to play a stellar role in Opposition politics, Nitish is looking like the front runner at this juncture. It is another matter that Prime Minister Narendra Modi continues to go from strength to strength and there is no big challenge to his position. The Sonia, Nitish-Lalu meeting should be apparently viewed as an exploratory exercise to assess each other’s mind as also the emerging situation. A lot more developments are expected in the future, especially after the Congress completes its organisational elections. 
— Pankaj Vohra

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