Nitish Kumar has always found the road to Delhi cumbersome. The man was once seen, along with Narendra Modi, as one of the best-performing chief ministers of the country and naturally, comparisons had often emerged between the two as the potential future prime minister.
However, Kumar did not entertain proximity with Modi despite being a part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance then because of the latter's 'Gujarat 2002' baggage. Like most of India's traditional politicians who believe in clinging on to the secular bogey come what may, Kumar understood that identifying himself too much with Modi could ruin his national ambitions.
The political circles of Bihar still vividly remember how upset Kumar was after an advertisement showing him joining hands with Modi in 2010 ahead of that year's Assembly elections did the rounds. A fuming Kumar even had called off a dinner he was to host for the leaders of the ally party. Such sensitive was the issue of showing bonhomie with Modi.
Ahead of the 2014 LS poll, Nitish Kumar could sense trouble and hence quit
In the run up to the 2014 Lok Sabha election, too, Kumar could sense the threat emanating from within the BJP. Like now, the JD(U) strongman had also said then that he had no ambition to become the prime minister, also adding that somebody who would become the PM should be fit to do the job in a secular country.
The message was clear. But though Kumar did not ever express his ambitions in public, he also did not ignore Modi's rise in the NDA. When he understood that there was no stopping of the then Gujarat chief minister, the Bihar CM stormed out of the NDA. What had happened thereafter was seen by all. The JD(U) was decimated in its own den and Kumar went on to resign as the CM of Bihar. He had to burn a whole lot of midnight oil to return to the position later.
In 2017, Kumar is facing obstacles again but the game is different now. He has reiterated that he is not in the race to become the PM in 2019 but has added that the people of the country found Modi fit to lead the country in 2014 and hence, he is there.
Ahead of 2019 LS poll, Nitish has found the Lalu obstacle
Meanwhile, the cornered anti-Modi forces are hoping to rope in Kumar as one of their main faces but the shrewd politician in the man knows that option is of no significance. Unless something drastic happens, the results of the 2019 Lok Sabha election are a foregone conclusion, especially after the performance the BJP produced in Uttar Pradesh a few months ago.
The BJP, meanwhile, is trying its best to get Kumar back into its fold. His friend-turned-for-turned-friend Lalu Prasad is facing fierce attacks and it is certainly going to put the Mahagathbandhan which had walloped the BJP in the 2015 Assembly elections under a lot of pressure.
Being a politician with a clean image, Kumar might not find the idea of living with his tainted partner helpful for long and could get back to the BJP's fold to save his government as well as his own reputation. But then, it will be back to square one as going to the NDA will eventually scuttle his chances of becoming the PM.
Lalu's counter-attack will put Nitish Kumar in a spot
Moreover, Lalu Prasad has already called for launching a counter-strike against the "intimidators" and such action is highly likely to widen the gap between Lalu and Kumar for the latter, despite being an alliance partner, will refrain from joining it so that wrong messages are not sent across.
Also, Lalu on Tuesday, May 16, tweeted congratulating the BJP for getting "new alliance partners" which gave rise to enough speculation about the undercurrents in the grand alliance. Though Lalu later said that the alliance was intact but one can never know how things can go when it comes to the unpredictable Lalu and Kumar.
Nitish has backed Modi on key issues to build an image that fits tastes of MODI-fied India
Kumar had a 'communal' problem ahead of the 2014 battle while it is a 'secular' problem for him ahead of the 2019 battle. The man played it wisely in the years between by not going against PM Modi on key issues like demonetisation and surgical strikes against Pakistan for he knows opposing the latter would only harm his chances in the MODI-fied India of today.
But even though he has now thoughtfully placed the administrator in him in alignment with Modi, Kumar is yet undecided on the political position that would serve him the best in the next general elections. The Lalu factor has made it complicated for Nitish Kumar.