Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar during an election meeting, in Nalanda district. Image Credit: PTI

Patna: Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar has become heavily dependent on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to win the elections in his home state as the strong anti-incumbency wave sweeps across the state after his 15-year-stay in power and he finds it hard to pacify the people’s anger.

Media reports said Nitish, Janata Dal United president projected as National Democratic Alliance’s chief ministerial candidate for the fourth term, has got shaky in view of the voting pattern during the first phase of polling held on 71 seats on October 28. During the first phase, an impressive 55.69 percent of voters came out of their homes to cast their votes braving deadly Covid-19 which has claimed 121,641 lives in India and left more than 8.13 million people infected.

A panic-struck chief minister is not only attending every election rally of the Prime Minister but also lavishing heavy praises on him, describing him as the “harbinger of hope for Bihar”. On October 28, the Prime Minister addressed as many as three election rallies in the state scattered over various locations such as Darbhanga, Muzaffarpur and Patna, and the chief minister shared dais with Modi at his every rally.

Hitherto posing as the main “challenger” to Modi, the chief minister heaped praises on him at his every rally saying “Narendra Modi will make Bihar a development state if the NDA is voted to power”. Perhaps, he thinks Modi’s “popularity” still continues and that could bail him out as the situation appears tough for the chief minister this time, experts say.

Nitish’s helplessness had got reflected during the April-May 2019 Lok Sabha elections as well when he sought votes in the name of Modi’s image, Balakot strike, surgical strike and demonetisation drive. The Bihar chief minister remained mysteriously silent even when the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) constantly raised the controversial issues like Vande Matram (Mother, I bow to thee) and beef, amply indicating how the chief minister and his party were getting too much dependent on the BJP’s vote-bank as the Muslims disown them almost entirely.

“This is the failure of a successful development executor all because of his wrong advisors. It’s really strange that the man once seen as a potential challenger to PM Modi now looks too eager to share dais with his one-time arch-rival,” political commentator Sachindra Narayan said on Saturday. He said his failure to properly handle the key issues of migration, large-scale unemployment caused by Corona-induced lockdown and flood devastation had done a lot of harm and it would be really difficult for him to swim against the turbulent tide which is visible everywhere.

It’s really strange that the chief minister who once didn’t allow Modi, then chief minister of Gujarat, to enter Bihar now looks at him with much hope and expectation.

During the 2009 LS poll and 2010 assembly polls in Bihar, the chief minister had warned the BJP leadership against engaging Modi in a state poll campaign. He even threatened to walk out of the NDA if the BJP didn’t listen to his advice. “Why we need another (Narendra) Modi when we already have (Sushil) Modi?” Nitish had told the media then. Eventually, Modi didn’t come to Bihar to campaign for his candidates.

In June 2010, barely a few months before the state elections, the chief minister even cancelled dinner he had hosted in honour of the BJP leaders — they had reached Patna to attend party’s national executive — just after the BJP issued advertisements in the local newspaper carrying an old photograph showing Nitish clasping hands with Modi.

The matter didn’t stop at that. A visibly angry Bihar chief minister even returned Rs50 million cheque the Gujarat government had donated for the victims of 2008 Kosi floods disaster and rushed a Bihar police team to Gujarat to conduct raids at the advertisement agency which had issued advertisements to the local media. But now the whole situation has undergone a complete change.

Observers say, previously, the chief minister would seek votes in the name of development but this time there are not many takes for his election speeches. What has done a lot of harm to his credibility, experts said, is Nitish’s frequent move to switch sides after winning elections.

In 2010, he won the elections with the support of the BJP but three years later he dumped the BJP shortly after Modi was projected as NDA’s Prime Ministerial candidate. In 2015, he contested the election in alliance with Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janaat Dal (RJD) and the Congress but some 20 months later, he again broke alliance with the RJD and then formed his government with the support of the BJP against which he had got the mandate.

“The flip-flops had certainly not gone down well within the masses. As such, the people don’t trust him anymore for misusing the mandate. No explanation can be given for its misuse,” said another political expert wishing not to be named.

Poll strategist Prashant Kishor too has said the chief minister should have sought a fresh mandate instead of forming government with the BJP’s support. “Keeping in view the interests of Bihar, I think it was okay (to walk out of the ruling Grand Alliance led by the RJD). But I do not agree with the method adopted. I have said this earlier and I still hold the view that, upon taking the decision to return to the BJP-led coalition, he should have ideally sought a fresh mandate,” Kishor has gone on record.

Also, the general complaint against the chief minister is that he acts mainly on the advice of the bureaucrats rather than his party leaders.