Nitish banking on Modi’s charisma to hold grand alliance at bay

Nitish Kumar, Bihar Chief minister, NRC, National Register of Citizens, implementation, Bihar, Citizenship Act, protests
Nitish Kumar is the first chief minister of an NDA-ruled state to shut its doors on the citizens’ register that would be crucial to the BJP-led national coalition delivering on its promise to expel infiltrators. Photo: PTI

It was not very long ago when Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar had put an unofficial ban on the entry of Narendra Modi, then chief minister of Gujarat, to Bihar and didn’t allow him to campaign for NDA candidates in his state, apprehending that his visit could disturb his Muslim voters for later hardcore Hindu image. This had happened during the 2009 Lok Sabha polls when BJP patriarch LK Advani had been projected as NDA’s Prime Ministerial face. Although the NDA put up a spectacular performance in Bihar, it failed to get the desired number to form government at the Centre.

The prevailing animosity between the two chief ministers was such that Kumar had even abruptly cancelled the dinner hosted in honour of the visiting BJP dignitaries who had gathered in Patna to attend the party’s national executive meeting in May 2010. This happened just after the BJP had inserted an advertisement in the local newspapers, publishing an old photograph showing Kumar shaking hands with his Gujarat counterpart. This triggered a chain of reactions. An indignant Bihar CM not only cancelled the dinner but also returned the ₹5 crore cheque which had been donated by the Gujarat government for the 2008 Kosi flood victims. Three years later, he finally broke his party’s 17-year-old alliance with the BJP, shortly after Modi had been projected as NDA’s Prime Ministerial face.

Form Modi-hater to brand Modi endorser

Cut to 2019. The same Nitish Kumar is a changed man. The man who once dumped NDA over Modi’s candidature and never liked to mention his name in the public meetings earlier is now strangely seeking votes for him at his elections rallies in the state. What is more strange is that the chief minister himself has been hugely promoting ‘Brand Modi’, citing the “achievements” of the Modi government and mentioning his name on a frequent basis.

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The promotion is not limited to election rallies held in support of BJP candidates. Even for his own JD-U candidates, the chief minister is hugely banking on Modi’s charisma and seeking votes in the name of the achievements of the Modi government.

“Modi’s steps against terrorism has boosted the morale of the common man and if India holds its head high in the world, it is just because of Modiji. The central government has brought a miraculous change in the life of the poor through Ayushman Bharat Yojana, Ujjwala Yojna and Kisan Samman Yojana while it has also liberally given funds to the state to improve basic infrastructural works,” Kumar’s stock speech at election rallies, much to the amusement of the common voters.

Lost credibility

What has caused Nitish Kumar to take a U-turn and eat his own words against his once arch rival and remain silent on the performance of his own government in Bihar.

Experts say the chief minister has lost much of his credibility due the frequent change of allies and less focus on governance, to stay in power. This can be underlined from the fact that the chief minister has formed at least five governments in the past five years.

He formed his new government with the opposition’s support, soon after breaking the alliance with the BJP in 2013 with whose support he had won the elections. A year later, he handed over the throne to dalit leader Jitan Ram Manjhi after a disastrous performance in 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Barely nine months later he threw Manjhi off the chair to become the Chief Minister himself. Ahead of the 2015 Assembly elections, the Chief Minister formed an alliance with Lalu Prasad Yadav’s RJD and Congress and after winning the elections, he formed the government. Barely two years later in July 2017, he in a sudden move broke alliance with the Lalu and returned to the old BJP camp.

The story doesn’t end here. If Yadav is to be believed, Kumar made frantic attempts to return to the RJD camp again, barely six months after quitting his alliance and joining hands with the BJP. According to Yadav, Kumar had sent his emissary Prashant Kishor no less than five times to settle the deal, but the former rejected the proposal since he had completely lost faith in Kumar. Such flip-flops on the part of Kumar have dealt a severe blow to his credibility and hence the general masses are just not ready to hear him in the poll arena, say experts.

Battle for survival

“As such, the masses don’t trust Nitish Kumar anymore and this has caused a serious survival problem for him. This is the reason why the chief minister has been seeking votes for his candidates on the achievements of the Modi government. We never heard of him doing that in the past. The fact is that he even refrained from citing the name of Modi in his speeches earlier,” said political expert Prof DM Diwakar.

The entire situation is slowly getting tougher for the Chief Minister’s party with the upcoming fourth round of polling to be held in five Lok Sabha constituencies of Bihar on April 29 looking critical. The overall situation is underlined from the fact that the Chief Minister camped for as many as 10 days in Madhepura where polling was held on April 23, trying hard to convince voters vote for the JD-U candidate.

The situation is equally tough in the fourth phase where the JD-U is contesting in only one seat in Munger. Of the remaining four seats, the BJP is contesting from Darbhnaga, Ujiyarpur and Begusarai while the LJP has fielded its candidate from Samastipur. All the five seats are currently held by the NDA but they are facing a stiff challenge from the opposition Grand Alliance as the contest is straight. It will be a miracle of sorts if the NDA is able to retain its seats. How Nitish is banking on Modi’s charisma to win elections

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