Changing poll symbol: Is Nitish’s ‘chakra’ meant to take on Modi’s ‘padma’?

Has Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar already embarked on the mission to emerge as the foremost challenger of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the 2019 Lok Sabha election?

Given the moves that his government and party are making, one believes the JD(U) heavyweight is eyeing a new image that could help him challenge the Modi aura in the specific context of a national election in India, especially if one goes by the trend of 2014.

Nitish Kumar

Like Modi, Nitish also looking beyond Bihar after three wins

Nitish Kumar has so far been known to be an efficient administrator who has helped a new identity of Bihar to grow.

Although he has engineered more social groupings, but as a contradictory step, has also backed the call of a Bihari pride. However, that strategy of socio-political manoeuvrability has reached its saturation point after he won his third successive term as the chief minister of Bihar.

Now, just like Narendra Modi who had shifted his focus on the national arena after winning three Assembly elections in Gujarat on the trot, Nitish is perhaps also looking to take the same route.

And for that, he needs to undergo an image makeover: from that of a regional satrap ruling a caste-ridden state to a potential leader who can be easily identified with the national electorate, which is dominated by the middle-class ethos.

Banning liquor to cater to middle-class values?

Nitish's first move, hence, was announcing a ban on liquor. Alcohol is perhaps the safest item to ban in India for it has a moral side, something which is appreciated by the middle class values. When many other parties and their leaders are facing flak for their act of banning, Nitish cleverly chose a subject to draw attention of a class that matters a lot in a national election.

Whether Bihar's revenue will dry up is a secondary question. The chief minister now needs the blessings of the middle-class and specially the women to reach closer to the national goal.

Is there a deeper plan in changing poll symbol?

The second case is more interesting. The JD(U) has now decided to change its poll symbol, from the ‘arrow' to ‘wheel'. The party feels the arrow symbol left the voters confused as some other parties, too, have similar symbols and hence cost it over a dozen seats.

It may be noted here that the JD(U) finished second in the recently-held Bihar Assembly elections after the RJD, once its biggest rivals in the state, and that could leave an impact on Nitish's administrative records in his latest term. Is the call for a change of symbol an indirect complaint against the voters?

Could be. For the same party had finished as the largest party in the 2010 Assembly election with the same arrow and had also done well in 2005. So, how it is mattering today, especially when Nitish Kumar is such a popular leader in Bihar?

But the move might have its deeper motives. First, it is difficult to understand why the symbol of wheel, which the JD(U) is aiming to switch to, is being termed as a ‘chakra'. One gets a feeling the term ‘chakra' is deliberately being used as part of a soft-Hindutva strategy, or to put it more straight, to counter the BJP's ‘padma' in the long run.

Just as ‘padma' or lotus is one of the four symbols of Lord Vishnu that signify nectar and pollen attracting bees and butterflies, the ‘chakra' is seen as both a weapon and a symbol of life connoting time and space. One will not be surprised if by adopting the ‘chakra',

Nitish Kumar is now planning to appeal to the Hindu sentiments of holding power and ready to take on even the most powerful of enemies, or rivals as it in politics. Needless to say, a ‘chakra' will strongly serve his party in parts of India where urban middle-class Hindu sentiments are strong. As a secular player, this is a master stroke.

Given the fact that Nitish Kumar took help from modern-day election advisors to defeat the BJP in Bihar, it will not be surprising if the decision to change the symbol also came from them.

Countering Bhagwat's Ram Temple remark: Mocking the hardliners is a strategy

The Bihar CM was also seen countering RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat's regret that the Ram Temple might not get constructed in his lifetime, saying neither the BJP nor the RSS have any faith on Lord Ram and they keep talking on the temple row to make political gains.

Quite a fiery stand there, isn't it? Who knows whether Nitish is not playing brinkmanship on soft Hindutva by mocking the hardliners about their inability to finish off their pet project so far?

Post-2015 Bihar elections, we are perhaps seeing the birth of a new Nitish Kumar, who like his former Gujarat counterpart, has undertaken a well-scripted journey towards the helm.

Will he succeed?

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