Prime Minister Narendra Modi dispensed the first three minutes of his speech in Patna today on triple-A praise for Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, whose prohibition policy he later highlighted as “inspirational.”
“Social change is very tough thing to forge, yet he has shown remarkable ability in implementing prohibition… if this policy is successful in Bihar, the whole country will be inspired,” said PM Modi at a public meeting to celebrate the 350th birth anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh, revered by Sikhs, and born in Bihar. The PM offered a big portion of compliments to the Chief Minister for the scale of the event and the arrangements.
The compliments for Mr Kumar and the endorsement by the PM of the prohibition law, tagged by many as over-reaching and draconian, come after the Bihar Chief Minister has angered both his own party as well as his allies by declaring his “full support” for the PM’s demonetisation drive. Of heavyweight opposition leaders, Mr Kumar alone stood outside a united attack on the sudden notes ban that was introduced in November to combat black money, and resulted in a massive cash shortage, with around-the-block lines at banks only now thinning out.
Mr Kumar and PM Modi’s live-streaming admiration of each other’s controversial reforms will have their supporters anxiously checking the political rear view mirror to see if things are closer than they appear. In 2015, the PM led the BJP’s campaign in Bihar, but was defeated by the alliance of Mr Kumar, the Congress and Lalu Yadav. Both Mr Kumar’s coalition partners have made their discomfort plain over his backing of the notes ban. But the Chief Minister’s calculus has factored in that there is vast public support, including in rural areas where the cash crunch has been significant, for the PM’s declared intent of curbing corruption.
In 2013, Mr Kumar called time on an 18-year-alliance with the BJP over its decision to pick PM Modi as its Prime Ministerial candidate. It was a misstep of considerable proportion – his party won just 2 of Bihar’s 40 seats in the national election in Bihar, while the BJP took 22.