Tejashwi Yadav rides a tailwind in Bihar: rattled Nitish and BJP try to catch up
“Bihar me Bahar Hai / Nitish-e Kumar Hai” was the slogan in 2015. Much has changed since then and an unlikely 31-year-old is stealing the thunder in the David vs Goliath battle for Bihar
A cartoon in the late 1970s by R K Laxman had a banner reading ‘United We Stand’ stretched and split into two by the two ‘pole bearers’ pall bearers pulling the banner to opposite directions. While the cartoon was aimed at the Janata Party then, old timers quip that it is equally relevant for the NDA in Bihar today.
BJP leaders and the Prime Minister speak about terrorists, Pakistan, Pulwama, Article 370, Kashmir, Triple Talaq and the Ram temple. Nitish Kumar and JD(U) leaders on the other hand skirt these issues and are speaking of communal harmony and inclusive politics. They are not even harping on the promise of free COVID vaccine and the 19 lakh job opportunities that the BJP has promised. BJP leaders in turn make no mention of Nitish Kumar’s ‘Saat Nischay’. The split is wide open. It is the NDA which is divided in Bihar.
There are several interesting videos on the Bihar election accessible on YouTube and the social media. In one of them celebrity journalist Barkha Dutt is seen talking to a group of shopkeepers in a marketplace at Mokama.
They all say they will not vote for Nitish Kumar. The chief minister did not come up to their expectation, did no development etc. One of them says that all the industries in Mokama had shut down. The same person adds that Nitish Kumar’s much vaunted Prohibition policy had failed.
But amusingly enough, the shopkeeper goes on to claim that he had voted for Nitish Kumar last time because of his reverence for Narendra Modi. Others take up the cue and nod in agreement. They have nothing against Narendra Modi or the BJP but Nitish Kumar must go.
Nobody reminds them that last time Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar were on opposite sides. They were attacking each other, badmouthing and mocking each other. And BJP actually came third, after RJD and JD(U). Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav together defeated the BJP and Modi. In 2020, Modi and Nitish Kumar are on the same side and if the people are so enamoured of Modi, then they would surely not think twice before voting for Nitish Kumar.
But while Modi and Nitish Kumar are now praising each other in public, NDA ally Chirag Paswan has declared his resolve to send Nitish Kumar to jail. It will be a BJP-LJP government in the state after November 10, he repeats while predicting that Nitish Kumar will not be the next chief minister.
Barring a bland statement that Lok Jan Shakti Party is not part of the NDA in Bihar, the Bharatiya Janata party has done or said nothing to dispel the impression that Paswan junior is a guided missile launched by the BJP to take down Nitish Kumar. The Prime Minister in his election rallies makes no mention of Chirag Paswan. Amit Shah told an interviewer that whether LJP would join the ministry in Bihar, in case of a NDA victory, would be decided after the election. BJP MP and rising star Tejashwi Surya, asked about Paswan, evades questions but does not miss saying that Chirag is young and dynamic.
Paswan is being used to attack Nitish on the one hand and take away a chunk of anti-Nitish votes on the other. It will not matter if the LJSP fails to win. It will be sufficient if it can ensure that the Grand Alliance or the Maha Gathbandhan loses 15 to 20 constituencies they might have won otherwise.
The PM’s poll pitch in 2015 was ‘Double Engine’ growth. If Governments in the state and the Centre belong to the same party, he argued, it would facilitate faster development. This time too he is repeating the pitch, declaring that Nitish Kumar has hardly worked for three years with the BJP Government at the Centre. While the PM is distancing himself from the 15 years of Nitish Kumar, he has unwittingly drawn attention to the fact that Nitish Kumar was the most effective when the UPA Government was in Delhi.
It was during his first term in office, between 2005 and 2010 that Nitish Kumar delivered on not just law and order but also on education, social welfare, employment and infrastructure. His second term saw considerable improvement in electricity supply—also during the UPA’s tenure at the Centre.
The PM has addressed six rallies in Bihar so far, and may address six more—a far cry from the 31 rallies he had addressed in 2015. But unable to talk of improvements in Bihar, he has taken recourse to claiming successes on the border, against terror and in feeding the migrants during the lockdown. Indeed, the PM claimed that his Government had fed 130 crore Indians for eight months this year. This has not gone down too well with the voters who have seen what happened on the ground.
Journalist and former AAP leader Ashutosh articulates what many observers believe. Bihar being the only state in the Hindi belt where the RSS and BJP are the weakest (the state has never had a BJP leader as chief minister, Sushil Modi as Deputy CM coming closest), the desire is there to grab complete control of the state. But, points out Ashutosh, Nitish Kumar has been a stumbling block.
Although part of the NDA, Nitish Kumar did not allow RSS and BJP a free hand. He did not even allow Narendra Modi to campaign in the state till 2014. It therefore became imperative for the BJP to get him out of the way, says Ashutosh before adding, ‘Modi is known to have a long memory, to be vindictive and he has decided to strike at Nitish’.
BJP, observers believe, would not mind a hung verdict or even losing the election. They are confident of their ability to cobble up a majority by breaking other parties and through defections after the results come out. And even if the opposition wins by a landslide, it can always blame Nitish Kumar for the anti-incumbency and take on the RJD in the next election, having got rid of Nitish Kumar.
Nitish Kumar’s Facebook page, where videos of his speeches are uploaded, reflects the mood on the ground. Critical and uncomplimentary comments outstrip the ones which are supportive. Some responses are abusive, in poor taste and unprintable. This also got reflected in the chief minister getting heckled at his public rallies. Slippers were thrown at both Nitish Kumar and Tejashwi Yadav. But while the latter took it in his stride, dismissed it as an occupational hazard and a ‘blessing’, the chief minister lost his cool.
While the BJP appears to have succeeded in distancing itself from anti-incumbency, leaving Nitish Kumar to bear the brunt of public anger, in several constituencies, BJP legislators are also not being spared. In some places they are just being abused while at other places they are being forced to turn back. Even the Prime Minister is at the receiving end of barbs with people complaining bitterly about either not receiving the promised foodgrains or receiving very poor quality and unedible foodgrains.
Even a BJP strongman and the party’s EBC face Prem Kumaris finding the going tough in what till quite recently was regarded as a BJP stronghold. He is battling with his back to the wall in Gaya Town constituency where constituents hold him responsible for Gaya being rated as the dirtiest and the third most polluted city in the country.
Gayawal Pandas are angry as the state govt cancelled ‘Pitrapaksh’, the fortnight long period before Dussehra when devout Hindus from across the country converge at Gaya to pray for ancestors. Nearly 4000 Pandas earn their year’s living during this fortnight. But while the congregation was disallowed on the ground of COVID, they are angry that election rallies have been permitted.
A divided NDA, strong anti-incumbency and the promise of a million government jobs by Tejashwi Yadav appear to have given a momentum to the opposition Grand Alliance. At the beginning of the election it was looking like a cake walk for the NDA. Pollsters predicted NDA would romp home with 130 to 160 seats in the 240-member Assembly. It no longer appears that simple.
There is a headwind that one can see in rallies addressed by Tejashwi Yadav. The atmosphere is electric and the crowd energetic, responding to him, lapping up his words, jumping and screaming in solidarity. They seem to love a young leader who holds out hope and they seem to have already rejected a chief minister who looks tired and who comes up with excuses.
Nitish Kumar did not help his cause by coming up with alibis. Bihar doesn’t have industries because it is not a coastal state, he said. Tejashwi Yadav retorted by pointing at Rajasthan, Punjab and even Uttar Pradesh. Bihar is a poor state and a million jobs was an unrealistic promise, said the chief minister. This time his own ally the BJP mocked him by promising 1.9 million job opportunities.
So, after phase one, it is advantage the Grand Alliance in Bihar.