West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s refusal to accept Nitish Kumar as the convener of the opposition I.N.D.I.A. bloc, while also expressing aggressive hostility to a caste census, has not gone down well among the backward caste people as well as Dalit and OBC leaders of Bihar and Jharkhand. Notwithstanding their political allegiance, even a section of the backward caste leaders belonging to the BJP feel that this stand of Mamata was aimed at undermining the stature of Nitish within I.N.D.I.A. and effectively humiliate him.
The ruling Mahagathbandhan leaders in Bihar strongly nurse the view that this statement from Mamata would severely damage the electoral prospects of I.N.D.I.A., not only in Bihar and Jharkhand, but also in Uttar Pradesh, and to some extent, even in Bengal. In Bihar, Lalu Prasad Yadav and Nitish Kumar are viewed as the two sides of the backward caste politics. This news has even raised the political aspirations of the backward castes in eastern UP and in Bengal. Sources say the backward caste Biharis of Bengal, who at one stage were seeking solace in emergence of BJP as their voice, have not taken kindly to this remark by Mamata Banerjee.

The I.N.D.I.A. leaders nurse the view that the Mumbai meet proved to be a waste of time. Most shared the view that no other leader enjoyed greater support for the key assignment than Nitish. The JDU leader after parting ties with the BJP undertook the mammoth task of bringing the secular parties together after aligning with the RJD and the Congress. The next meeting of I.N.D.I.A. will be held in Delhi in October. By that time, it would be too late to salvage the situation. Unfortunately, Mamata’s stance does not reflect the need for flexibility and compromise, which almost all theI.N.D.I.A. leaders mentioned in their speeches.
A Srivastava
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