Exit poll projections suggest Nitish Kumar could be in for a tough time as part of an NDA government

The majority of exit polls have forecast a comfortable-to-massive majority for the Bharatiya Janata Party led NDA. Of these, at least two leading polls, telecast on different channels, have predicted that the BJP's individual tally could breach the 300 mark or at least hover around it.

Bihar, Maharashtra and Punjab are the main major states where the BJP has an alliance going with powerful or significant regional ally (allies). It also has an alliance with the AGP in Assam, but the equations in the North East are different.

The SAD and BJP are mutually complimentary and their support base does not overlap. Moreover, divergent ideologies and objectives do not contradict one another. In contrast, although the Shiv Sena and BJP share common ideology, their common social base causes friction between them.

The relationship between BJP and Nitish Kumar-led JD(U) is more complicated and unlike the ties with other partners, is likely to come under duress because of conflicting pulls in the event of Narendra Modi leading the BJP to another nationwide absolute majority on its own.

 Exit poll projections suggest Nitish Kumar could be in for a tough time as part of an NDA government

File image of Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar. PTI

Pollsters predicted that Bihar is among those states that will play a major role in BJP's likely stellar performance for the second successive Lok Sabha election. Several pollsters envisaged a veritable sweep by the NDA partners with the entire UPA being reduced to low single digits.

When viewed in conjunction with the BJP's performance in other states, if the actual verdict on 23 May matches high-range forecasts, it would be read as a personal success for Modi, the programmes he has initiated or rebranded and the ideology he espouses.

This would put the Bihar chief minister in awkward position because of his continued attempts to ideologically distinguish his party from the BJP, especially the extreme sections within the party. His statement on Pragya Singh Thakur and suggestion that he would like the BJP to consider disciplinary action against her whether she win or loses, is going to be a major test case.

Nitish will be able to reiterate his position only in the event of Modi being numerically weaker than he was during the tenure coming to an end in days. A government that is more dependent on allies for its majority necessarily would make it more politically consultative and be guided on its internal matters by sentiments of partners.

If Modi is not dependent on allies and includes them in the government for better optics, there is no immediate necessity for allocating crucial portfolios. There would also be little reason to make the government decentralised and not run it with the PMO as primary lever.

BJP leaders in Bihar have for long grieved about the national leadership handing the senior partner tag to Nitish when the two formed the government for the first time in 2005. Nitish viewed himself as the ideological monitor for the BJP and deliberately created the image that his secularism was at par with the RJD's and certainly qualitatively different from his coalition partner's theory of 'genuine secularism'.

Nitish's stubborn refusal to allow Modi to campaign in Bihar, his rejection of the Gujarat government's Rs 5 crore aid for flood relief in 2010, cancellation of the official dinner he was hosting for members of the BJP National Executive and above all his snide rebuke of Modi, serving a reminder of turning down the offer of a skull cap by cleric in 2011: "To run the country, you have to take everyone along... at times you will have to wear a topi (cap), at times a tilak (vermillion mark on the forehead)" were various occasions that Kumar sparred with Modi and not just on ideological grounds.

This may have been overcome by two pragmatic leaders since the Bihar chief minister returned to the NDA fold in 2017, but there is no knowing how what the future holds.

Given the fact that the verdict being suggested by pollsters will be propelled by Modi, there will be pressure on the national leadership to reclaim the leadership from Nitish and the JD(U) at some point or the other.

Whether Modi entertains this idea in the run up to the next Assembly polls due in 2020 or waits till the next Lok Sabha polls, is to be seen. In any case, Nitish's case is not served by the fact that this election is likely to be the third successive occasion when he had to either play second fiddle or has been in a supporting role in the victorious alliance — 2015 and 2019 — or was routed (2014).

The BJP state leadership is certain to point this out to Modi-Shah especially if the JD(U) wishes to underline his party's ideological distinctiveness like in the past.

Although the Modi-Shah duo scaled down the BJP's ambition this time and even gave up Lok Sabha seats it was holding, there is no knowing whether they will like the idea of wriggling out of the arrangement of a 50-50 partnership.

If the results go in the direction that exit polls suggest, it would be chiefly due to the second Modi wave and will demonstrate that Nitish has reached a plateau insofar as public support is concerned while the BJP under the prime minister remains an ascendant force.

Although his position is not threatened immediately, Nitish will certainly find the pitch suddenly offering more bounce that before.

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Updated Date: May 20, 2019 14:55:02 IST