By Neha Srivastava
As much as Nitish Kumar seems to hate Narendra Modi, he also seems to be in way too much awe of him. His entire Bihar campaign sounds like a replication of Modi’s 2014 campaign. What Nitish Kumar doesn’t realize is, the memory of 2014 election is way too fresh for this.
From “Parche pe Charcha” that reminds you of “Chai Pe Charcha” to “Ghar Ghar Dastak” which reminds you of “Har Har Modi, Ghar Ghar Modi", he appears to be copying every detail from the Modi campaign. There is even a “Munna se Nitish” comics which is to be release out which sounds like a copy of “Bal Narendra” comics on Narendra Modi’s childhood. The “Bihari DNA” campaign too is reminiscent of Modi’s “Gujarati Asmita” campaign in 2008. Nitish Kumar’s rallies seem to have acquired names just like Modi’s rallies. As they say, “Imitation is the best form of flattery”, but I hope Nitish realizes that imitation only creates replica artists, not Van Gogh’s.
But one wonders, what happened to Nitish Kumar? An able administrator, he masterminded the grand BJP-JDU alliance and together they were able to deliver “Sushasan” (good governance) in Bihar. Every Bihari can recount how those days defined “Acche Din” especially after the Lalu Prasad Yadav's preceding tenures. Everything was working well until Nitish Kumar started a very public campaign against Narendra Modi. From avoiding him in CM dinners to espousing Ishrat Jahan’s cause as “Bihar ki Beti”, Nitish’s dislike for Modi was no secret. In a way, Nitish should be given credit for recognizing Modi’s potential much before anyone else and it makes sense that he saw a space for himself as the non-Congress option against Modi, especially given latter’s “Hindutva” credentials.
But then, what went wrong? Pretty much everything I’d say. Modi’s popularity kept growing and the list of opponents along with it. Nitish Kumar was no longer the only face against Modi, he was one of many. One has to wonder if Nitish Kumar played his cards too soon by breaking up with BJP in 2012.
So now we have, “Sushasan Babu” Nitish Kumar joining hands with his biggest opponent under the banner of “secular forces” against “communal BJP”. Obviously, this begs the question, why were his secular principles lying dormant for the years of partnership he had with BJP?
But let’s leave principles aside, for they rarely have any meaning in politics. On the ground, JDU-BJP was a behemoth force to reckon with, from caste mathematics to governance, everything was going in their favor. That can hardly be said for the Mahagathbandhan. Nitish Kumar, the able administrator has joined hands with the two most notorious parties for corruption in India, RJD and Congress, and he can kiss the “good-governance” campaign slogan goodbye.
One would think the caste math would work out for them but it doesn’t appear that way, since Yadav-Kurmi rivalry in UP-Bihar is legendary. Both SP and Pappu Yadav have recognized this opportunity and have declared their candidacy against Mahagathbandhan, splitting the Yadav votes at least two ways if not three. Admittedly, SP has little or no influence in Bihar but their reputation as “the Yadav leaders" in next door UP will help them.
Pappu Yadav aka Rajiv Ranjan, a local strongman and a five time parliamentarian is a force to reckon with. Given, RJD’s Yadav-Muslim coalition has yielded good results and both JDU and Congress claim to represent Muslims, one would think Muslims vote is a sure thing but with Owaisi’s AIMIM joining the fray and NCP breaking up with Mahagathbandhan leading to the loss of NCP's heavy-weight Tariq Anwar, even that doesn’t seem so certain anymore. Not to mention the huge loss of Mahadalit vote that the very disgraceful public exodus of Jitan Ram Manjhi will cost the JDU.
So far Nitish Kumar’s campaign promises also fail to awe. The claim of “Crime and Corruption-free Bihar” comes under serious doubt the moment you note the fact that JDU is contesting less seats (101) than they even won (117) last time. Even the dying Congress has managed to wrestle out 10 times more seats (40) than they won in 2010 (4). This indicates the low level of control does Nitish Kumar exerts over the coalition. Not too long ago, Nitish Kumar was in the headlines asking for a “Special Status” for Bihar, now that Modi has delivered a “Special Package” of 1.25L Cr, way more than Nitish Kumar even asked for, his election promise of raising a 2.7L Crore without center’s help seems too reactionary, if not downright impossible. His PR Team doesn’t seem to be doing any wonders either. Following Modi’s footsteps, Nitish Kumar tried to increase his social media presence by holding an “Ask-Me-Anything (AMA)" sessions on Twitter but not only did he receive a weak response, most of the answers circumvented the questions. Recently, Nitish Kumar’s article that appeared in Times of India was titled “Bihar’s great leap forward”, which is an unfortunate re-use of the phrase invented by the Communist Party of China, to refer to an economic and social campaign that met with huge failure. Overall, Nitish Kumar’s stars just don’t seem to align the right way.
In the grand scheme of things, the only winner appears to be Lalu Prasad Yadav. From a staggering 103 seats in 2000, Lalu’s party had fallen to a meagre 22 in 2010. After his conviction by the CBI Court in 2013, the humiliating defeat of his wife, Rabri Devi, in 2014 Lok Sabha elections and Pappu Yadav’s split from RJD, it almost seemed like the “Lalu era” of Bihar politics was over. Who knew, his arch rival would become his knight in shining armor and revive his career? Not only has Lalu managed to gain relevance again, courtesy of Nitish Kumar, he seems to be in the best suited position at this point. Irrespective of whether the mahagathbandhan wins or loses, Lalu Yadav seems to be in a win-win situation. Given that his competitor JDU is now his ally, he stands to win more seats than he would have had he gone solo, despite threat from Pappu Yadav and SP. Moreover, Nitish’s reputation of being an able administrator might actually help Lalu in some of the urban and semi-urban seats, especially if the BJP’s candidate is weak. Speculations are rife that Lalu plans to ditch Nitish post election, based on how he scores, to bag the Opposition chair by re-aligning himself to other Yadavs, especially if JDU-Cong alliance fails to pull its weight. Lalu’s “poison” comment on Nitish’s CM candidacy hint that these rumours may be more than just that.
Whether or not the “mahagathbandhan” is able to repeat the Delhi election results remains to be seen but it is surely going to be an interesting fight.