The campaigning for Lok Sabha election is in full swing and the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is targeting to win all 40 seats in Bihar. However, the main crowd puller for NDA in Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, is increasingly becoming a laughing stock.

He often forgets his speech midway, or declares that the NDA will cross 4000 seats this time, or even touches Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s feet, promising never ever to go back to Rashtriya Janata Dal-led Mahagathbandhan. Sometimes Kumar degenerates into blabbering instead of giving a coherent speech.

Kumar, who barely a few months ago appeared to have achieved the impossible by bringing all major non-BJP parties on a common platform for the Lok Sabha election in order to defeat the BJP, has suddenly lost his way. Midway through this humongous exercise, in January this year he went hurtling back to the BJP to take oath as CM for a record ninth time, albeit with a different alliance partner. But from this point onwards, his downhill journey began.

Kumar, who once was credited with bringing Bihar back from the brink in 2005 after defeating Lalu Prasad Yadav-led RJD after its 15 year tenure, which the BJP is fond of describing as ‘jungle raj’, is perhaps battling an existential crisis for his political identity. Having turned into a parody of himself, Kumar cuts a sorry figure today.

The man who was called the ‘sushasan babu’ (good governance man) because he actually resurrected Bihar from the dumps in 2005 by bringing a semblance of development to the state, has today earned the nickname of ‘paltu ram’ (one who switches sides), and has completely lost his credibility.

He looks ill, both physically and mentally. While there is no official word on his failing mental and physical health, tongues have started wagging in Bihar. The grapevine has it that he is suffering from some psychotic disease and is on medication.

“The symptoms of this disease are visible in his involuntary muscle movements, twitching of his face, trembling hands, and fading memory which is landing him in embarrassing situations many times,” a JD(U) leader who was once very close to him but has parted ways now, said.

His alliance partner, the BJP, has sensed this now and there are efforts to minimise his presence at crucial meetings. Prime Minister Modi avoided taking him along when he addressed rallies for the first phase of voting on April 16 at Gaya and Purnea. Even on May 12, when he addressed meetings in Hajipur and Saran, Kumar was conspicuous by his absence.

“Nitish Kumar will be the sole reason for the NDA tally going down this time. He has lost substantial credibility and voter support which will result in a significant drop in the JD(U) tally.

“He will pull the BJP down as well because those who are angry with him will refrain from voting for whichever party he is aligned with,” Dr Sunil Kumar Singh, a political analyst in Patna said.

According to Singh, this voter behaviour was evident when three byelections happened during Nitish Kumar’s stint as chief minister with RJD support. “Even in a place like Mokamah, where the BJP has never had any support, the voters ended up voting for the BJP because they did not want to vote for Nitish.”

This time, this trend may manifest in voters going for the RJD-Congress-Left combine, he said. In his assessment, the NDA, which had won 39 seats in 2019 Lok sabha election, is bound to lose a minimum of ten seats, even more, this time.

In fact, the biggest reason for voters in Bihar getting angry with their CM has to do with his frequent flip-flops, the latest one being in January this year which nobody could understand. According to political observers in Bihar, even though the Kurmi vote bank may still be intact in his favour, others like Kushwahas, who form 3-4 percent of voter population, have turned against him.

The reason for this, according to them, is his traditional rivalry with Rashtriya Lok Samta Party (RLSP) leader Upendra Kushwaha, who is contesting from Karakat seat in the NDA camp. The twist in the tale here is that a BJP rebel, Pawan Singh, has contested as an independent from Karakat and is learnt to be tacitly enjoying BJP’s support.

The result being, Thakurs in Karakat have decided not to support Upendra Kushwaha but Pawan Singh. This has angered Kushwahas elsewhere and they have turned against Nitish Kumar because he could not prevail upon the BJP leadership to make Pawan Singh withdraw.

And if reports are to be believed Kushwahas have decided not to support either BJP or JD(U) candidates in at least 5-6 seats where they are in a dominating position. Interestingly, they have tilted towards the RJD-led alliance which has fielded seven Kushwaha candidates, as against three by the NDA.

This dent in the Kushwaha community support base for NDA, significantly, will damage the JD(U) more than it will damage BJP because even the Muslim voters, who in Bihar sometimes supported the NDA because of Kumar, has deserted him and consolidated in favour of RJD-Congress-Left combine now, leaving Kumar high and dry.

If ‘Nitish watchers ‘in Bihar are to be believed, this might be the last election for him. But what a great fall it has been for the chameleon man of Indian politics!

Someone who managed to be on the right side of power since 1998 onwards, who managed to become CM of Bihar for a record nine times, with equal ease on both sides of the fence, is today struggling for survival.

A look at Nitish Kumar’s political journey leaves one agog. He first became an MLA in Bihar in 1985 and played a crucial role in Bihar politics in 1989 when he helped Lalu Yadav become the leader of Opposition.

Kumar shifted camps in 1996 and from 1998-2004 remained Union Minister in the Vajpayee government, handling key portfolios like agriculture and railway.

In November 2005, he joined hands with BJP to unseat Lalu from Bihar and has continued to rule as Bihar CM since then, barring a short hiatus in 2014 when he had left the CM’s post after his party’s poor performance in 2014 Lok Sabha election, making Jitan Ram Manjhi the CM.

But Kumar looked invincible when in 2015, he joined hands with Lalu again and swept the Bihar Assembly election, despite the fact that the entire country was riding a Modi wave. In 2017, however, he fell out with RJD and went back to the BJP, resulting in the NDA sweeping the 2019 Lok Sabha election in Bihar, winning 39 out of 40 seats.

The subsequent Assembly election, however, gave the first warning signals for Nitish Kumar’s decline. In the 2020 assembly election, though both the Janata Dal-United (JD-U) and BJP contested almost equal number of seats, the JD-U could win only 43 seats with 15.4 percent vote share against B JP’s 74 seats with 19.5 percent vote share.

Despite this, the BJP supported him to become the CM, but he flipped again, crossing over to the RJD in 2022. He dumped RJD in January 2024.

These frequent flip flops, combined with his frequent slips of the tongue, incoherent statements in public, and at times inexplicable explanations for his flip flops, have now left people wondering whether he is mentally and physically healthy. The poll outcome in Bihar would also tell us Nitish Kumar's future.