Tomorrow’s polling in Bihar will decide how far Tejashwi Yadav will go
The crucial second phase of polling in Bihar tomorrow will decide how close the results will be; and, more importantly, whether bread and butter issues will prevail over caste
The crucial second round of polling in Bihar on Tuesday, November 3, when polling will be held in as many as 94 constituencies, is expected to seal the fate of the two alliances in the fray. But whatever is the final outcome when counting takes place on November 10, what is clear at this point is that the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) has finally got a leader with appeal across the state to head the party.
What is also clear is that the RJD has upset the caste calculus and has given a clear call to the people to rise above caste. His slogan that it is time to stop migration or exodus of people from Bihar for livelihhod (Kamai), medicare (Dawai) and education (Padhai) has found a resonance among the youth and the older people alike and cuts across the caste divide. Observers have been quick to point out that Tejashwi Yadav has created a new caste of the unemployed in the state. What is also not in doubt is that like his father Lalu Prasad Yadav, the son is also unlikely to join hands with the BJP.
The response from the NDA has been rather lame. While the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar have both been reduced to harping on the ‘Jungle Raj’ in Bihar between 1990 and 2005 when Tejashwi Yadav’s parents were chief ministers. The PM has sarcastically described Tejashwi Yadav as the prince or Yuvaraj of the Jungle Raj and has predicted that he would meet the same fate as another Yuvaraj in Uttar Pradash, Akhilesh Yadav in 2017.
Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has been reduced to chiding the state’s youth for vociferously supporting Tejashwi Yadav. “ Go and ask your Ma-Baap (parents) what the Jungle Raj was like,” declares a petulant CM in one meeting after another. The situation is so desperate for the NDA that the PM harped back to India’s strike within Pakistan at Balakot in 2019 –while maintaining his silence on the Chinese aggression in 2020---to stir nationalistic fervour.
What makes the response weak, is the U-turn taken by both the PM and the CM. Barely five years ago in 2015, Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar were on opposite sides and abusing each other. While Modi found Nitish Kumar’s DNA to be defective, the Bihar CM had hit back by saying that BJP was ‘Bharatiya Jhootha Party’. While Modi in his public speeches listed over 30 scams ( Ghotala) that had taken place under Nitish Kumar. Now that they are on the same side, sharing the stage and slapping each other’s back—assuming that people would not recall what they said five years ago—their words lack conviction and credibility.
Smart campaigning by RJD, lacklustre governance by Nitish Kumar during the last three years and his disappointing handling of the COVID and the migrant crises seem to have given an edge to Tejashwi Yadav.
Caught on the wrong foot by Tejashwi Yadav’s promise of a million ‘government’ jobs, NDA has also been let down by its convoluted response. Nitish Kumar first mocked his rival by citing his lack of administrative experience. Both he and his deputy Sushil Modi claimed the state had no resources to support a million jobs. To this Tejashwi Yadav’s simple retort has been that where is a will, there is a way. The CM then spoke of Bihar being a landlocked state and hence failing to attract industries, a claim which was blunted by Tejashwi citing the example of other land-locked states like UP, Punjab and Haryana with no coastline. As if this was not enough, BJP made it worse by promising 19 lakh job opportunities in its manifesto.
Promises are a double-edged sword. And if Tejashwi Yadav does manage to form the government, he would be walking the razor’s edge to fulfil the promise. But at the moment, he seems to have got both his chemistry and arithmetic right. He has also deftly steered away from the narrative of the jungle raj by saying that those were the days for seeking social justice while he is trying to ensure economic justice.
Bihar remains a minefield of castes. And only a brave or reckless observer will venture to guess the outcome of the election. What is obvious is that for the NDA, it is no longer a cake walk as it had appeared barely a month ago. It is going to be a close and tight race. And win or lose, Tejashwi Yadav has arrived and his political innings promises to last longer than his stint as a cricketer.