Nitish Kumar’s growing unpopularity paradoxically fails to diminish chances of his return as CM  

In Bihar, for the first time in 15 years there is deep discontentment against the government and the CM. But disarray in opposition ranks is working to his advantage

Bihar CM Nitish Kumar
Bihar CM Nitish Kumar

Nalin Verma

Please don’t talk about election. If possible, find a job for me”, says Aparna Kumari, a teacher in a private coaching institute at Patna, which has shut down because of the pandemic. Several thousand coaching institutes have actually shut down in the state.

Along with joblessness, the state government’s curious handling of the COVID19 outbreak has increased risks for the people. Till the middle of June there were only around five thousand infected people in the state but there were 15,000 official quarantine centres! But in July, when the number of infected is closer to 20,000, most of the quarantine centres have been closed.

Bihar Government’s failure to enforce targeted lockdown, conduct adequate number of tests and the failure to convince people to wear masks even in the state capital have not gone unnoticed. There is deep discontent, even resentment, at the state government’s handling of the crisis and Nitish Kumar is certainly facing a serious anti-incumbency in the election due in November.

But both JD (U) and BJP do not seem to be in favour of deferring the election. BJP leader Sushil Modi, while taking a jibe at the opposition for demanding a deferment, wants the decision left to the wisdom of the Election Commission. The opposition, he quipped, were behaving like truants afraid of appearing at the examination.

Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, understandably, is not in favour of putting the state under a spell of President’s Rule. That might spell the end of the road for him and his party. He has declared his intention to launch the election campaign on August 6 and has set up four sub-committees to hold online consultations with party cadres and supporters.

NDA partner and president of Lok Janshakti Party, along with RJD and the Congress, have called for the poll to be deferred. Leader of Opposition in Bihar Assembly, Tejaswhi Yadav and Congress spokesman, Premchand Mishra have lashed out Nitish for ‘prioritising’ elections over the COVID-19.

JD(U) however believes it will be dangerous to defer the poll. Though Nitish has lost much of his popularity, partly because of his inept handling of the COVID-19 crisis and partly because of the Srijan Scam --that involves swindling of about Rs 2000 crore from the state treasury in Bhagalpur—his election managers feel that he at the vanguard of the NDA has a better chance to retain power.

Nitish Kumar got five RJD MLCs cross the floor and join his party on June 23. The grapevine has it that Nitish has been working on about a dozen or more RJD MLAs to shift loyalty to him ahead of Assembly polls. He already has got three Congress MLAs including its former party president, Ashok Choudhary, crossing over to him.

RJD general secretary and spokesman, Manoj Jha said, “Nitish Kumar has not only surrendered his socialist and secular ideology to the BJP. He has also learnt the art of union home minister, Amit Shah, to poach from other parties”. “How can we say that we are not missing Lalu Prasad? We are missing him badly at a time when Nitish has adopted Amit Shah’s machinations”, he added.

While Tejaswhi Yadav has downplayed poaching by Nitish saying, “It will make no difference. The legislators changing loyalty won’t affect the mass base of the RJD”, the disarray in the opposition ranks is working to NDA’s advantage.

The Union government has announced a ‘package’ of Rs 125 crore to Bihar to draw up rehabilitation schemes for the three million migrant workers who have returned to the state. The RJD has alleged that Nitish might use the package to ‘buy’ votes by transferring money to the account of the vulnerable migrant workers.

The rumblings of discontent against Nitish Kumar are real. People are speaking openly against him. But to his advantage, the opposition is not in a position, as of now, to capitalise on it.

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