During the 2010 Bihar assembly elections, chief minister Nitish Kumar had not allowed the then Gujarat CM Narendra Modi to campaign in the state. He had firmly rejected the proposal of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and threatened to end the alliance if the saffron party decided to field Modi and Varun Gandhi for Bihar polls.
The Janata Dal (U) leader had then brushed off media queries, saying: “We already have a Modi (Sushil Modi) in Bihar. Why need another Modi (Narendra Modi)?” The BJP leadership had to succumb to his pressure in the backdrop of senior party leader LK Advani not being in favour of the alliance falling apart.
Ten years later, when Nitish is seeking another term for himself, he appears to have become excessively dependent on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to sail through in the next two phases of assembly elections in view of the unpredictable voting trend in the first phase polls held in 71 assembly constituencies spread over 16 districts in Bihar.
Facing acerbic disparagements from Tejashwi Yadav and Chirag Paswan, and amid perceived corrosion of his image, Nitish Kumar now wants to piggyback on the Prime Minister to return to power. Nitish has turned to Modi after it became evident that the JD(U) candidates faced tough challenges from the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) nominees in most of the 71 constituencies.
Hitherto posing as the big brother or equal partner in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the JD(U) leadership has seemingly climbed down and sought the support of the BJP to bail him out in the upcoming two phases of polls.
This change in Nitish’s stance was witnessed at the recent election rallies addressed by the Prime Minister where he heaped voluminous encomiums on Modi for his development agenda specific to Bihar. Using words like Shraddheya (venerated) for the PM, Nitish said, “Narendra Modi will make Bihar a developed state if NDA is voted back to power”.
The Prime Minister also reciprocated by declaring Nitish as the ‘Bhavi Mukhyamantri’ (next chief minister) and crediting him with the economic turnaround of Bihar. The Prime Minister also warned people against the RJD and promised hosts of measures for the economic development of Bihar.
For Nitish, who won the 2010 polls on em>Sushasan (governance) plank and 2015 polls as a challenger to PM Modi, the ‘Modi factor’ is vital due to the perceived anti-incumbency upsurge against his 15-year tenure. The wily politician that he is, Nitish has now fallen completely into the lap of Narendra Modi to scrape through as his party is locked in a keen electoral joust with the RJD and its allies at many places.
It is for the first time that Nitish Kumar has yielded to Narendra Modi since 2009. Their relationship in between has been wavering between hatred and reconciliation on several occasions in the past.
The two had traded barbs ever since Modi and Nitish had shared the dais at an NDA rally on May 10, 2009 held at Punjab’s Ludhiana to push for LK Advani as prime minister candidate. Modi had lifted Nitish’s hands aloft in an expression of solidarity providing an opportunity for the cameramen for a rare political picture much to the displeasure of the Bihar chief minister.
The hiatus between them widened further in June 2010 when Nitish had cancelled a dinner for BJP delegates at the last minute apparently in protest against publication of advertisements in the local media with the photograph taken at Ludhiana.
A Gujarat-based agency had issued the controversial advertisement in Patna dailies coinciding with the BJP national executive, which was also attended by Modi among others.
The Bihar chief minister did not stop at that and even returned the Rs 5 crore cheque given by the Gujarat government for the 2008 Kosi flood victims. A Bihar police team had visited Gujarat and also launched raids at the advertising agency office which had issued the advertisement to the local media.
The BJP, which needed regional allies to consolidate its position at the national level, remained silent and agreed to Nitish’s demand not to send Modi and Varun Gandhi to Bihar for poll campaigning in the 2010 assembly polls. The NDA performed better under the stewardship of Nitish with JD(U) and BJP winning 115 and 91 seats, respectively.
The JD(U) leader broke ties with the BJP in June 2013 in protest against elevation of Narendra Modi as the prime ministerial candidate at the party’s Goa meet bringing to an end the 17-year-old alliance that had remained stable through thick and thin in the national politics. It came as a major jolt to the NDA which was then left with only three constituents – BJP, Shiv Sena and Shiromani Akali Dal.
Initially, he had tried to put a spanner in Modi’s bid to become the prime ministerial nominee of the NDA. But political insecurity and growing popularity of Narendra Modi had prompted Nitish to walk out of the NDA.
In fact, buoyed by his grand victory in the 2010 Bihar assembly elections, the JD(U) leadership had geared up to play a bigger and decisive role at the national level and stitch a non-BJP alliance to ensure defeat the BJP in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and scuttle the prime ministerial prospects of his bête noire Narendra Modi.
But the NDA led by Modi swept the 2014 polls forcing Nitish to join hands with the RJD led by Lalu Prasad for the 2015 assembly polls. In 2015, he emerged as the challenger to Modi, who had courted a controversy by saying at an election meeting that there is “something wrong in the political DNA of Nitish” for frequently changing his political allegiance.
Nitish hit back claiming that Modi had insulted the people of Bihar and launched a campaign wherein the JD(U) had sent nearly 50 lakh DNA samples to Modi for testing. Helped by the DNA fiasco and Lalu’s support, Nitish won 71 seats and became the chief minister with the support of 82 MLAs of the RJD besides the Congress.
At one point, Nitish was considered the frontrunner to be the joint prime ministerial candidate for the opposition for 2019. But he switched sides again in 2017 and joined hands with the BJP to continue as the chief minister.
Since then, Nitish has lost much of his credibility and his image as ‘Sushasan Babu’ has been severely dented. It has further eroded by the unabated vilification campaign launched by Tejashwi and Chirag – the two belligerent youngsters challenging his political might this time.
As Nitish faces opprobrium from the opposition, the JD(U) and BJP are out to grab the maximum political space in the caste-ridden state. And, now Modi definitely stands head and shoulders above him.
The author is a senior journalist. Views expressed are personal