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Nitish Kumar Waves BJP's Lotus Symbol – A Mere Gesture or Matter of Compulsion?

Experts opine that Nitish's 'political opportunism' is the main reason why he and his party's stature have declined.

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An unprecedented visual from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's roadshow in Patna on Sunday, 12 May, has become a major talking point in Bihar's political circles.

The prime minister arrived in Patna on Sunday to campaign for the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in the Lok Sabha elections, and during his roadshow, Bihar Chief Minister and Janata Dal United (JDU) chief Nitish Kumar was spotted riding the chariot with him – but holding a cutout of the BJP's election symbol lotus.

As far as political observers are concerned, the image spoke a thousand words and raised a thousand questions – whether Nitish holding the lotus symbol was a mere gesture or a matter of compulsion, whether his body language pointed to an apparent discomfort, among others.

The visual showed PM Modi flanked by BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad and Nitish on either side. Nitish was seen 'uncomfortably' shifting the lotus symbol from one hand to the other. 

"I have never seen any alliance leader holding the symbol of another party before. But this does not mean that Nitish will join the BJP," DM Diwakar, former director of AN Sinha Institute of Social Studies, Patna, pointed out to The Quint.

Meanwhile, senior journalist Pravin Baghi opined: "He (Nitish) is not very healthy these days. In the roadshow with the PM, he looked helpless and tired. Even in his speeches, his usual energy is missing…"

Sharing a photo of Nitish from the rally on X, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Manoj Kumar Jha commented: "What happened in the blink of an eye!"

So, what does this image signify? Does this spell doom for Nitish Kumar and the JDU?

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Is Nitish Losing Relevance?

Earlier this year, in January, Nitish Kumar yet again took a political U-turn and quit the alliance with the RJD to join the BJP. He also broke away from the INDIA bloc he founded in 2023 to take on the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections.

On 28 January, he was sworn in as chief minister for the ninth time. However, this U-turn triggered questions about his political credibility and future.

Nitish Kumar had given two reasons for his actions:

  • "We had done the work of bringing all the parties together, but everything was going very slowly, which made me sad," he had said.

  • Accusing the RJD, he had alleged, "Attempts were being made to break our party. There was a competition to take credit for the work being done in Bihar."

Incidentally, in 2022, Nitish had accused the BJP of "breaking" and "finishing" the JDU, as he broke away from the NDA government in the state.

Experts believe that there were two reasons behind Nitish's change of side this time – and it mostly had to do with eyeing for power at the Centre.

He had hoped that he would be declared the prime ministerial face of the INDIA bloc, but that didn't happen. 

In Bihar, meanwhile, Lalu Prasad Yadav was allegedly in the process of a coup d'état – and a senior JDU leader was also accused of being involved in it.

Baghi told The Quint, "Nitish Kumar is no longer getting the importance he did in Bihar politics due to his constant change of sides. For the past few years, his politics has had only one objective – to remain in the chief minister's chair. His political stature has come down and he no longer has the same image in the minds of the public."

Nitish's alleged declining credibility is visible in the election results of the JDU. The party, which won 115 seats in 2010, was reduced to just 43 seats in 2020. In the last 10 years, its vote share has fallen from 22.58% to 15.39%.

Despite continuing to be in the CM's chair, the JDU's dwindling influence has made him dependent on coalition partners to stay in power.

Experts say that that is why he has had to constantly reassure the public that he would not leave the NDA and go elsewhere.

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Row Over Another Photograph

Another photo of Nitish Kumar drew flak this election season. Last month, on 7 April, he was seen touching the prime minister's feet during a campaign in Nawada district. 

"We were very embarrassed to see what we saw in Nawada. What compulsion did Chief Minister Nitish Kumar have to touch his [PM Modi's] feet? They spoke all the time. Atal and Advani's era were different. It is very painful to see this," RJD president Tejashwi Yadav had said then.

After the Nawada rally, Nitish was absent from some of PM Modi’s meetings. This sparked discussions about the BJP allegedly sidelining the leader. However, later, Nitish and PM Modi appeared together during a campaign at the Munger Lok Sabha constituency.

Political experts also noted that during his speech on Sunday, Nitish made mistakes. The Bihar chief minister spoke of winning "4,000 seats", saying: "We hope that 4 lakh people will vote in favour of the prime minister... 4,000 MPs, more than that will be here, in favour of the prime minister."

Senior journalist Arun Pandey opined to The Quint, "The effect of Nitish Kumar's age and health is visible. He is making all sorts of remarks. As a politician, he has also become a burden in the eyes of the BJP. That is why the party seems to be avoiding him in election campaigns."

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What About Development?

In Bihar, Nitish was often called 'Sushasan Kumar' (crediting him for his good governance). However, experts say that his speeches of late have offered no perspective about development of Bihar. Instead, statements accusing the RJD of promoting 'jungle raj' has taken the center stage in his campaigns.

The RJD was in power in Bihar from 1990 to 2005. Nitish became the chief minister in 2005 and has been in power for the last 19 years, during which there were two occasions – 2015 and 2022 – when he formed a government with the RJD.

Commenting on Nitish's statements, Tejashwi Yadav had said, "CM Nitish is elderly, he can say anything."

In his speeches, Nitish has also made claims of development in sectors, including education and health. The reality, however, paints a different picture. According to a 2021 report by government think tank NITI Aayog, Bihar ranked first in terms of multidimensional poverty at 51.91 percent of the state’s population.

The index measured poverty across its multiple dimensions and in effect complemented existing poverty statistics based on per capita consumption expenditure. It took into account three equally weighted dimensions – health, education, and standard of living.

"Nitish is not doing anything new. His USP is now over. His USP was good governance – and Bihar's good governance is over."
DM Diwakar
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Political Opportunism to Blame?

Experts consider 'political opportunism' as the main reason why Nitish Kumar and his party are losing as the BJP continues to grow.

The party suffered a loss of one seat in ticket distribution for the Lok Sabha elections. The BJP had an upper hand in seat sharing between the constituents of the Bihar NDA. Out of the 40 seats in the state, the BJP is contesting from 17 seats and the JDU from 16.

Chirag Paswan's Lok Janshakti Party (Ramvilas) got five seats and Jitan Ram Manjhi's Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) and Upendra Kushwaha's Rashtriya Lok Morcha (RLM) got one seat each.

This is the first time that the BJP has surpassed Nitish Kumar's JDU in terms of seats. Earlier, whether it was Lok Sabha or Assembly elections, there was either a 50-50 formula between the BJP and the JDU or the JDU had contested from more seats.

The NDA's seat-sharing formula is a sign of the BJP's growing stature in the state. Baghi explained to The Quint:

"Nitish Kumar's base has decreased. Due to the seats that have been reduced in the Assembly elections, his bargaining power has ended."

Moreover, DM Diwakar added that the minorities "won't vote for Nitish Kumar anymore."

"Muslim voters used to stand behind non-BJP candidates, but now they are standing behind non-BJP and non-JDU candidates," he said.

On the other hand, it is being claimed that the BJP is trying to build its leadership in Bihar in light of Nitish's declining stature. So far, Nitish played the role of an 'elder brother', but now, the BJP has taken on that role, noted experts.

DM Diwakar opined:

"The BJP has been gradually reducing his [Nitish's] status and is trying to get its own leadership to emerge. This could not have happened under Nitish, so the BJP is trying to reduce his stature and it has been successful in this effort."

Baghi added that "the weight of one who does not have strength in politics automatically falls. Because of this, the BJP has made Nitish feel like a 'younger brother'."

Experts say that the results of the Lok Sabha elections would decide the future of Nitish Kumar and his party in Bihar. The Assembly elections are also due in Bihar in 2025, so a lot depends on the party's performance in the general elections, they added.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Narendra Modi   Nitish Kumar   Patna 

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