Even as two phases of polling are yet to take place, the ruling JD-U has created consternation in the NDA with its fresh demand to make Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar the prime ministerial candidate. The party has reasoned that making Nitish Kumar PM candidate will help the NDA arrange for the required numbers to form government at the Centre, saying the alliance may not get the majority on its own.

The development has left the BJP hugely embarrassed even as the latter has been repeatedly claiming to win over 400 seats in the Lok Sabha this time.

The JD-U, which is headed by Kumar, is a key ally of the BJP and is contesting elections in only 17 Lok Sabha seats out of Bihar’s total 40.

“It appears the NDA is not getting majority this time, and hence it should declare Nitish Kumar as the PM candidate if it wants to form government at the Centre,” senior JD-U legislator Ghulam Rasool Balyavi said on Thursday, triggering political storms. What he means to say is that if Kumar is projected as the PM face, many political parties could come forward and support the NDA in government formation due to his “secular” image while it would be difficult for Modi to get support because of his “hard-line” image.

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The demand for making Kumar the PM candidate comes in the aftermath of BJP national general secretary Ram Madhav saying in a media interview that the NDA may not get majority this time.

However, such demand coming in the midst of the elections has stunned the BJP which has severely criticised its ally apprehending such adverse comments at this crucial junction which may spoil the NDA prospects.

“The JD-U leader is playing into the hands of others. There was no reason he should have made such comments,” BJP spokesperson Nitin Navin said,  adding the NDA would get majority in the House. He said everyone was working hard to make Modi the Prime Minister and that there was no vacancy for others.

Shahnawaz Hussain even ridiculed the statement of the JD-U leader saying “Jis tarah se Suraj ka ugna tai hai, usi tarah se Modiji ka PM banana tai hai (The way Sun rise is dead certain, Modi becoming the PM is certain)”. He claimed the BJP would get 300 seats on its own, saying: “From Kashmir to Kanyakumari, everyone is voting for Modi on his performance.”

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Strangely, this was the second time in quick succession that the JD-U leader had pitched for Kumar as PM candidate. In December 2018, Balyavi, considered very close to the chief minister, had placed the same demand claiming that projecting the JD-U leader for the top job could make bumper electoral gains for the NDA for his secular credentials.

Kumar nursing prime ministerial ambition is nothing new given the fact that he had already quit the NDA in 2013 over the same issue. The Bihar chief minister had broken 17-year-old alliance with the BJP and also walked out of the NDA shortly after Modi was projected the NDA’s PM candidate ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. A defiant Kumar later went it alone in the last LS polls but ended up winning just two seats out of the 40 the JD-U had contested.

After his humiliating defeat, which compelled him to resign as the chief minister, Kumar joined hands with Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad and then contested the 2015 state elections in alliance with the RJD as well as the Congress and got historic mandate — winning 176 seats out of the total 243 in the Bihar Assembly. Addressing the media at that time, he had claimed he didn’t have any prime ministerial ambitions and wanted to concentrate on Bihar only. He went on to add that none in the country currently had the “political ability” to defeat PM Modi, saying: “No leader in the country currently has the ability to take on Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He will return as Prime Minister after 2019 Lok Sabha elections too.”

His move was widely described as an “abject surrender” before the Prime Minister and also his immediate withdrawal from the PM race. Since he became the national president of his party in September 2016, the JD-U had been constantly projecting him as the PM face of the Opposition camp saying only he could give a befitting challenge to Prime Minister Modi in the 2019 LS elections.