Nitish Kumar ko gussa kyon aata hai (why does Nitish Kumar get angry)? Last week, as the Bihar Chief Minister and JD(U) chief lost his cool at a jeering crowd during a rally in Saran, that’s the question many asked — and, in politically astute Bihar, believed they had the answer to.
At the rally for party candidate Chandrika Rai, the estranged father-in-law of the RJD’s Tej Pratap Yadav, as a section of the crowd raised ‘Lalu zindabad’ slogans, Nitish Kumar snapped: “Vote nahin dena hai to mat do, lekin yahan se chale jao (If you do not want to vote for us, it is ok, but leave.”
It was a sign, many deduced, that the ground was shifting beneath the feet of the three-time CM. Yet others saw in his rage the impatience of a man who has towered over the last two Assembly elections as the larger-than-life CM face — first of the NDA in 2010, and later with the Grand Alliance in 2015.
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As Nitish bids for a record fourth term as CM, what’s clear, though, is that politics has come full circle for the man who had kept then Gujarat CM Narendra Modi out of Bihar during the 2009 Lok Sabha and the 2010 Assembly polls campaigns in Bihar, despite being part of the NDA in both elections.
This election, though, it’s a different Nitish. On Friday, as he spoke at a rally in Sasaram on Friday, most cameras captured a telling shot. In the backdrop, framed against a diminutive Nitish, was a colossal poster of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. That Friday’s PM rallies at Sasaram, Gaya and Bhagalpur were telecast live in scores of NDA Assembly segments is another sign that past equations have changed, for better or worse.
Days ahead of the first of the three-phase elections starting October 28, we look at what’s working on the ground for Nitish, what’s not? What are the challenges as he aims for a fourth shot at chief ministership?
“In his three terms, Nitish Kumar has given us three basic things — roads, drinking water and electricity. Now he wants another term to give water to every field. Will he need another 50 years to create jobs and check migration?,” sniggers Narendra Pathak of Khairihi village that’s part of the Dinara Assembly. He had voted JD(U) in the last election but says he is impressed with the LJP candidate this time.
It’s this growing impatience among voters with Nitish and his governance that defines this election. Bihar recorded an average growth rate of over 11 per cent during the last 15 years, mainly because of growth in construction, telecommunication and other secondary and tertiary sectors.
However, Bihar remains plagued by problems such as minimal industrialisation and poor social indicators. At the end of 2016-17, only about 2,900 of Bihar’s estimated 3,531 factories were operational, employing on an average 40 people each, well below the national average of 77 workers.
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There is now a sense of deep hurt that Nitish did little as many of the migrants walked back home during the lockdown, and did nothing to hold them back once it was lifted.
“Over a hundred people returned to our village during the lockdown; they have all gone back to Gujarat. Under normal circumstances, they should have stayed back to cast their votes. But this time, they were not at all interested. Rather, they were upset with the way Nitish Kumar treated them,” says Pathak.
JD(U) analysts told the media that there were three factors that leave them confident of a win. “One, that this social mathematics gives us at least a 10-12 percentage lead. That is too big to overcome. Second, despite everything, many will still not see a viable alternative to Nitish Kumar and, despite being angry, may still vote for him. Tejashwi has no experience and people know him as someone who failed Class 9. Third, they know the jungle raj pre-2005. I am not saying there is no anger. I am saying that it is infinitely better than in 2005,” the JD(U) leader said.
It’s still uncertain on whose court the ball will finally lend.