Ramnath Kovind
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar with former state governor Ram Nath Kovind, the NDA's presidential candidate.IANS File Photo

There is something similar between Pakistan's cricket team and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. Both are extremely unpredictable. And to give the latest examples to testify that, while Pakistan stunned India in the most humiliating way possible in the final of the Champions Trophy last Sunday, Kumar left the entire Opposition in the lurch on Wednesday by throwing his weight behind the NDA's pick as the presidential candidate. It was even more baffling for it was the JD(U) chief himself who had floated the idea of fielding a joint candidate for the election.

Though Kumar's party has said that he backed Ram Nath Kovind, who last served as the governor of Kumar's own state, not because of political considerations but reasons of merit, not all are convinced.

Nitish Kumar using every opportunity mend things with Modi?

It is gradually becoming clear that Nitish Kumar is on way to mend things with Prime Minister Narendra Modi for he has understood that opposing the latter in the current political scenario is a futile exercise. And if one aspires to be a part of Delhi's power corridor again, individually or collectively, there is no other way other than befriending Modi.

Hence, Kumar is acting as per the requirements. A shrewd politician, Kumar had a different script to cater to in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. As a party to the NDA, Kumar had hated the prospects of Modi emerging as the bloc's face for the election for he himself was more experienced in politics at the Centre and his name was no less significant when it came to comparisons between chief ministers. It was Kumar who was considered the closest competitor to Modi, the former chief minister of Gujarat.

Nitish Kumar's 2014 plans failed to deliver, thanks to Modi's rise

But as Modi's rise looked unstoppable, Kumar understood that the writing was on the wall and he could play a second-fiddle at the best. Being a leader from India's 'secular' camp, Kumar was certain that 'communal' Modi would not be accepted by the people of the country as its prime minister and the ghost of Gujarat riots of 2002 will eventually derail him.

Nitish Kumar with Narendra Modi
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar with Prime Minister Narendra ModiIANS

Kumar had his own share of personality clashes with Modi in the years leading to the general election and by pitching his voice on the traditional communal-secular divide, Kumar wanted to veto Modi's progress but when he found it not happening, he simply called off the 17-year-old alliance with the NDA. The results were not favourable for the man and he had to join hands with his home-state enemy Lalu Prasad to win the Assembly elections in 2015 in Bihar.

But three years since Modi took power, Kumar has understood that calling off the alliance with the NDA was a misstep. The communal-secular debate is no more a central debate in India, especially in the mainstream media, as India has been highly MODI-fied.

The BJP has gone on to win state after state with Modi and his lieutenant Amit Shah consistently stealing the limelight. A fiercely ambitious politician himself, this is again not something Kumar savours and a majority government at the Centre has also reduced his chances of playing a big role in New Delhi as he had done during the days of coalition governments.

Ahead of 2019, Nitish has the only option: To align with administrator Modi's vision

Kumar, hence, has only option to avail and that is to align his viewpoints with those of Modi. Ironical but that's how Kumar plays his politics. Kumar has nothing new to prove in Bihar and on the contrary, has the risk of losing his image as a good administrator while serving in a government in which his own party is a junior ally. In the state, too, Kumar has a stake to align himself with Modi's positive image as an administrator and thus has supported various measures the latter took, stunning other opposition parties.

Kumar is an opportunist who has made an exclusive space for himself in today's politics and he would like to give his career the boost that every ambitious man aims for. For that, he cares little for camps and has done what it takes to keep his foe of the moment at bay.

Nitish didn't even wait for Oppn to come up with a counter Dalit face, even from his own state

Kumar also played it smart by supporting the NDA's Dalit presidential candidate before the Opposition came up with its own Dalit face. If Meira Kumar is indeed projected against Kovind, there is no shortage of 'merit' in that candidate either and moreover she belongs to Kumar's own state Bihar. But Kumar has a bigger aim in mind and that is to get closer to the power centre in New Delhi in the near future.

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Unlike in 2014 when he was one of the aspirants for the prime ministerial post (though he had always denied that in public), Kumar is perhaps aiming to become the deputy prime minister in 2019 understanding very well that the top post is out of reach for some time now. With a Machiavellian political mind, Kumar is playing perfectly to his own script though people may still question the credibility of his political conviction.

If Nitish Kumar joins NDA again, the BJP will love it

If Kumar breaks all barriers and join Modi's camp before the 2019 election realising fully well that the anti-BJP forces have no chance, the NDA would also benefit. In a reverse model of the Vajpayee-Advani era when the hardliner deputy prime minister in Advani was balanced off by a moderate PM in Vajpayee, we could see 'secular' Kumar playing a crucial role in neutralising all the grievance people still have against a 'communal' prime minister. That would be a great political victory for the NDA and eat up whatever little space the Opposition can still aspire to have.

Nitish Kumar is a key man in Indian politics these days. All eyeballs will be on his future steps.