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With Prashant Kishor on his side, an ambitious Nitish Kumar aims to do a Narendra Modi in 2019 LS polls

It’s too early to predict anything about 2014 elections but one thing is for sure, Nitish is going to make it the battle of his life especially when Prashant Kishor is on his side.
Raj Singh April 21, 2016 18:04 IST
Raj Singh

New Delhi:  When Nitish Kumar was a college student, he used to tell his friends that someday he would become Prime Minister India.  That he was extremely ambitious was obvious from his college days.

A close look at his political journey, especially 1990 onwards, clearly shows that Nitish Kumar played all the tricks in the book to realise his political ambitions.

When Lalu Prasad-led Janata Dal government was formed in Bihar, Nitish Kumar was a leading figure of the ruling party. Differences between Nitish and Lalu cropped up very soon and it was mainly because Lalu Prasad was fast consolidating his grip on the political landscape in the state which made Nitish Kumar feel insecure.

Nitish Kumar always believed that he was the most suitable person to lead Bihar. The problem with Nitish was that he had a limited support base in Bihar politics which was largely caste driven. Unfortunately for Nitish, his Kurmi community, unlike Lalu Prasad’s Yadav community, was numerically not large enough to decisively change the outcome of an election. The Kurmis hardly constitute 3-4% of electorate in Bihar as against 11% of Yadavas. But Nitish was not ready to give up and his chief ministerial ambitions forced him to break ranks with Lalu Prasad and float his own party.

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In 1995 Bihar Assembly elections, Nitish Kumar’s newly formed Samata Party, which also had veterans like George Fernandes, fared disastrously and could manage to win only 7 Assembly seats. It was a massive setback for Nitish and his dreams.

After the poor performance in 1995 Assembly elections, a heartbroken Nitish Kumar concluded that he could not realise his dreams of ruling Bihar on his own and that if he had to occupy CM’s chair, he had no other option than  to join hands with the BJP which was the principle opposition party in the state at that time.  

The BJP, at that time, was reduced to a political pariah of Indian polity in the aftermath of demolition of Babri structure in Ayodhya. The saffron party was desperately looking for new allies and Nitish Kumar was anxious to get additional support to dethrone Lau Prasad-led government. Both of them joined hands and the first opportunity came in 2000 but it could not materialise in face of a fractured mandate.

After 2000 Assembly elections , Nitish Kumar was appointed as the Chief Minister of the BJP-JD(U) alliance but he had to resign within 7 days as he failed to prove his majority in the Assembly.

Nitish Kumar’s ambition of leading Bihar finally materialised in 2005 when the BJP-JD(U) alliance convincingly trounced  RJD in the state and overthrew the government led by Lalu Prasad’s wife Rabari devi.

Once he realised his dreams of occupying the chief ministerial chair, Nitish Kumar started positioning himself for a bigger role in New Delhi. His re-election in 2010 Assembly elections, further boosted his ambition and he got the sense that if he plays his cards well,  he had a good chance of emerging a consensus candidate for PM Post in 2014 general elections. His entire calculation was based on the hope that the BJP will fail to get a majority on its own in 2014 Lok Sabha elections and given its communal image, not many parties would come out in open  to support the party in post-poll scenario and under those circumstances, he had a better chance of emerging as the dark horse.

The BJP’s decision to project Narendra Modi as the PM candidate came as a rude shock to Nitish Kumar. This was primarily because Nitish looked upon Narendra Modi as a rival for PM post in 2014 general elections. Nitish Kumar knew that the projection  of Modi as PM candidate will help BJP perform much better in the Lok Sabha elections and it will reduce the distance of the saffron party from the halfway mark of 272 in the Lok Sabha. A disappointed Nitish walked out of NDA fold.

Nitish Kumar opposed the candidature of Narendra Modi for a different reason as well. He feared that Modi’s OBC background will threaten his stature as the prominent OBC face of NDA in the state. And Narendra Modi-led BJP’s spectacular performance in Bihar during 2014 general elections proved his fears right.

After the severe drubbing that his party JD(U) got in 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Nitish Kumar was once again looking for a support base in Bihar that could help him combat a resurgent BJP in Bihar. That’s where he turned towards his one-time bête-noire Lalu Prasad. His  ambitions forced him to ignore tough questions like  why he left Lalu in first place in 1990s if he had no problem  with RJD’s politics that rested upon strong-arm tactics in the state.

Lalu Prasad who was debarred from contesting elections after his conviction in fodder scam lost no time in offering his shoulder to Nitish Kumar. The political survival of both these leaders was at stake in view of BJP onslaught under the leadership of Narendra Modi. Lalu had mass base but no credible face. Nitish had face but he lacked mass base. In one sense, both Lalu and Nitish complemented each other.

Lalu Prasad, the astute politician that he is, very cleverly turned 2015 Assembly elections into a backward versus forward battle to blunt the development agenda of Narendra Modi. Nitish Kumar who wanted to avenge the defeat of 2014 at the hands of Modi, turned a blind eye to the blatant caste based polarisation that Lalu resorted to.

Lalu’s strategy worked and Nitish Kumar avenged his 2014 defeat at the hands of Modi. After taking over as the Bihar Chief Minister for third time in a row, Nitish Kumar’s prime ministerial ambition once again started overpowering him and he finally decided to go public with his ambition.

Nitish Kumar has publically stated that if the opposition parties want to stop the BJP/RSS juggernaut then they have to adopt the Bihar model to checkmate Narendra Modi. The message is very clear, he wants to stop Modi surge at the national level, the way he did it at the state level.  And make no mistake,  he wants to be the leader of the united opposition.

As the first step in this direction, he successfully got rid of national party president Sharad Yadav by replacing him as the party chief.

What has further encouraged Nitish Kumar to take a shot at PM post in 2019 elections is the presence of Prashant Kishor on his side. Prashant Kishor is largely credited with designing  Narendra Modi’s election campaign in 2014. Since the BJP refused to offer him the promised position after coming to power at the centre, Prashant Kishor walked out of BJP fold and Nitish Kumar welcomed him with an open arm.

The victory in 2015 Assembly elections further boosted Nitish Kumar’s faith in Prashant Kishor and he believes that with Kishor on his side, 2019 general elections would be the last but best chance for him to realise his PM ambitions and he does not want to miss it at any cost.

He is already 65 and will turn 68 in 2019. Obviously, he can’t wait for 2024. It’ll be too late for him.

Like Narendra Modi in 2014, he is also into his third term as CM. Not only this, like Modi , he has a master strategist like Prashant Kishor on his side as well. Nitish believes that there can’t be a better stage for him to plunge into race for 7, Racecourse road.

Will he succeed in uniting major opposition parties under his leadership, given the fact that his party has hardly any presence beyond Bihar? Most importantly, will the Congress and Rahul Gandhi accept his leadership?

There is very little possibility of Congress agreeing to contest 2019 Lok Sabha elections under Nitish Kumar’s leadership but if Nitish Kumar succeeds in forging an alliance of non-Congress opposition parties and if that alliance emerges as the single largest formation in case Modi fails to romp home for a second time in 2019 then Congress will have no other option to support Nitish Kumar for the top job. Given the state of health of Congress under Rahul Ganshi’s leadership, nothing can be ruled out.

Obviously, the road to 7, Racecourse Road, for Nitish Kumar,  is full of numerous’ ifs’ and ‘buts’. Nevertheless, Nitish Kumar knows that nothing is impossible in politics and he seems to have made up his mind to leave nothing to chance in 2019 parliamentary elections.
It’s too early to predict anything about 2019 elections but one thing is for sure, Nitish is going to make it the battle of his life especially when Prashant Kishor is on his side.