Tejashwi Yadav-led opposition poses a challenge to Nitish Kumar and NDA in Bihar thumbnail

Tejashwi Yadav-led opposition poses a challenge to Nitish Kumar and NDA in Bihar

Nalanda, Vaishali, Saran & Patna: Bihar mein ka ba (What does Bihar have)?” The village of Kalyan Bigha could be the answer to that question thrown in the opening line of BJP’s election campaign rap. It is the native village of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar in the Harnaut assembly constituency in Nalanda district, some 60 km southeast of Patna.

At least this place backs some of the lines in one of the many songs that have come out as “ka-ba” spinoffs: “Sadak ke jaal ba/ Vikas bemisal ba/ Garib ke makan ba/ Bijli relam-pel ba/ Nitish ke baan ba (There is a web of roads/ Unprecedented development/ Housing for the poor/ Electricity for all/ Nitish stands tall).” Kalyan Bigha has pucca roads and houses, a senior secondary school, an industrial training institute, a government hospital, a stadium, 24-hour power supply, an indoor shooting range and even a memorial park for Nitish’s late parents and wife. It is from Harnaut that Nitish started his political innings in 1977 and, after two unsuccessful attempts, got elected as MLA in 1985.

Lalvati Harihar Devi, who has a small tea shop in the village, says, “I run my shop all by myself without any worry about my safety. My two daughters freely move around as my husband tends to the farm. Was this possible during Lalu Prasad’s regime? My vote will again go to Nitish.” Women form a key vote bank for Nitish, thanks to the Bihar Rural Livelihoods Project, known as Jeevika, which offers credit facility to self-help groups; 50% reservation for women in local bodies and 35% in state government jobs; and the well-intentioned although widely unsuccessful prohibition.

While Lalvati offers tea and kachori to customers, her teenage daughters sit and chat under the sun with their friends like men do at tea shops, without a care in the world. “Nitish has given reservation for women in local bodies and government jobs. He has stopped the sale of liquor, the brunt of which was faced by women who had to suffer domestic violence at the hands of drunk husbands. Can Lalu or his sons offer such safety and jobs to women?” asks Lalvati. A few steps away, at a temple, a group of women sing bhajans while men, most of them farmers, praise “gaon ka beta” Nitish babu.

​Lalvati Harihar Devi

Lalvati Harihar Devi at Kalyan Bigha says Nitish has done a lot for women

Lalvati Harihar Devi at Kalyan Bigha says Nitish has done a lot for women

In Harnaut, Nitish’s Janata Dal (United) has again fielded sitting MLA Harinarayan Singh against Kundan Gupta of the Congress and Mamta Devi of the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP). But as one moves out of this adarsh gram of sorts, the narrative begins to change, rather drastically. “Who says liquor is not available? Nitish babu ka ye hai ki peene waale ko jail aur bechne wale ko bail (Under Nitish’s rule, the one who drinks alcohol gets jail and the one who supplies it gets bail),” says Pappu Kumar, who runs a mechanic workshop at Chandi Mod, a few kilometres from Kalyan Bigha, adding that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) might not be able to win all seven assembly seats in Nalanda district. Ask Sajjan Prasad, who stands next to Pappu, what he does for a living, and his reply is vehement, “Nothing.”

“I used to be a barber in Gurgaon. Surviving somehow for months after the lockdown was announced, I managed to reach home by borrowing money from a relative. Can you see any factory here where I can get a job as a labourer? People are fed up. Nitish babu hasn’t done anything in this term,” he says. In the upcoming polls, the JD(U) and the BJP have got 122 and 121 seats each. While the former has given 7 seats to Jitan Ram Manjhiled Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM), the BJP has given 11 seats to Mukesh Sahni’s Vikassheel Insaan Party (VIP). Nitish, who has traditionally enjoyed the support of non-Yadav OBCs, EBCs and Dalits, is now facing anti-incumbency and voters’ ire. Any talk about election is centred on his performance — or the lack of it. NDA leaders try to remind the electorate of what they call “the jungle raj” of Lalu Prasad and Rabri Devi, a veiled warning about their son and the chief ministerial candidate of the opposition alliance, Tejashwi Yadav.

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“But the people, especially the youth, have forgotten or are unaware of the 15 years of Lalu’s rule,” says Surendra Kishore, senior journalist and political analyst based in Patna. “No doubt, there is strong anti-incumbency, but the backwardness of Bihar is not due to Nitish. Development hasn’t happened as per expectation. Has the Centre done enough for the state?” he asks, referring to the special package for the state that the PM had announced in 2015. “A big part of Nitish’s traditional vote bank is open to vote for Tejashwi, but it is tough to say who will win this time.” The youth, which forms 50.3% of the electorate, will be the deciding factor. “Nitishji cares only for Nalanda. Even in the capital Patna, jobs are difficult to find,” says Ranjan Kumar, who works as a driver despite being a postgraduate. With his finger on the pulse of what Bihar wants, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leaderTejashwi has promised 10 lakh jobs. While the NDA initially mocked Tejashwi for this, the BJP had to rise to the challenge and promise 19 lakh jobs in its manifesto. In an interview to ET Magazine, Tejashwi says, “The BJP hasn’t promised jobs to 19 lakh people; it has said it will try to generate employment, that too without giving any time frame.

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On the contrary, we have already identified vacancies and requirement/creation of additional posts in different departments. Moreover, why didn’t they give 19 lakh jobs in their 15-year rule in Bihar?” The RJD is fighting in 144 seats, leaving 70 for the Congress and 29 for the Left parties. Even as a charged NDA is leaving no stone unturned to win this battle for Bihar, the sentiment on the ground points to a tough fight. People are questioning “sushasan babu” Nitish Kumar, who has been chief minister since 2005, except for nine months in 2014-15. His detractors say he has not contested an assembly election in 35 years, preferring to be nominated as a Member of the Legislative Council (MLC).

The NDA is banking on Modi’s campaign. “When the PM takes the campaign in his hands and addresses the people alongside Nitish, the narrative will change and people may feel that he is better than the loot-khasot-ki-sarkar of the opposition,” says Sanjay Kumar, director, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS). As per a LoknitiCSDS prepoll survey, 20% people said unemployment was the main issue while 29% said it was lack of development. Meanwhile, NDA has a loose cannon in Chirag Paswan. The LJP, led by Chirag, is fighting on an anti-JD(U), pro-BJP plank in 143 seats. It is strategically taking on all JD(U) candidates while engaging with BJP in a “friendly fight” in five seats. “Chirag is playing a gamble like his father Ram Vilas Paswan, who was a master opportunist, did. He will try to enfeeble JD(U) while keeping intact his alliance with the BJP for Lok Sabha polls,” says Surendra Kishore.

Seat-Sharing
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As per Lokniti-CSDS prepoll survey, LJP could get 2-5 seats with a vote share of 5-6%. The survey has given 88- 98 seats to the opposition alliance and 133- 143 for NDA. At Sultanpur — a village in Hajipur Lok Sabha constituency, which was Ram Vilas Paswan’s bastion and from where he became MP eight times — people are still mourning the death of their “dharti putra”. Ram Vilas Paswan passed away, weeks ago, on October 8. “Whatever work you see here was done by Paswanji. This school building was built by him. But in spite of repeated requests, no teacher has been appointed by the Nitish government,” says Mundrika Paswan, who works as an agricultural labourer and earns Rs 250 a day.

Most men in this village work as labourers. They say they had to spend all their savings — including those set aside for their daughters’ weddings — during lockdown. “Except for one or two cases, no one received any money during the lockdown as promised by Nitishji,” says villager Ram Ratan Bhagat. What they got in the name of free ration during the lockdown — that too only once — was poor-quality rice and black gram, complains his wife, showing what they received. “Our vote would have gone to Chirag but, unfortunately, he has not fielded his candidate in Hajipur. So we will vote for RJD,” says Mayaram Bhagat from Paswan Tola. BJP’s sitting MLA Awadhesh Singh is facing RJD’s Dev Kumar Chaurasia in Hajipur, which goes to poll in the second phase of elections on November 3. Sanjay Kumar of CSDS says despite the anti-incumbency, NDA should win 140-150 seats, a comfortable majority in the 243-seat assembly. “Unlike JD(U) and BJP, both of which are strong parties with a solid vote base, the RJD’s main ally Congress is too weak to help it win. Hoping for the Congress to win seats in double digits is great expectations. And the RJD looks incapable of pulling this off on its own,” he says. While the impact of PM Modi’s rallies, which began from Sasaram on Friday, has yet to play out, for now, for NDA, it looks like a difficult road to Patna.

“Bihar is All Set for a Revolutionary Change”

Tejashwi Yadav, RJD leader and chief ministerial candidate of the opposition alliance Mahagathbandhan, speaks to Prerna Katiyar. Edited excerpts:

1

How do you view NDA’s promise of providing housing to the poor and 19 lakh jobs?
Bihar has one of the highest numbers of incomplete houses, it ranks among the laggard states in the PM Awas Yojana and has high unemployment. Nitish Kumar’s promise is like Mungerilal ke sapney. Tell me one promise which he has fulfilled? He has no credibility and the people of Bihar have understood his poll gimmicks very well. The NDA has given only unemployment to Bihar, which gave it 39 of 40 MPs (in 2019).

You have promised 10 lakh jobs. How will you implement it?
I have worked out a detailed plan for the development of the state. For instance, providing one million jobs is my topmost priority. We have already identified vacancies and requirement/creation of additional positions in different departments. Similarly, we have charted out businessfriendly policies for setting up industries. There would be huge structural reforms in education, healthcare and infrastructure sectors. We are in consultation with domain experts and will start work from day one. I can assure you that the next five years will see a transformation of the state. Bihar will join the league of developed states.

Why would people vote for you when NDA has promised more jobs?
The BJP didn’t promise jobs to 19 lakh people; they said they would try to generate employment, that too without giving any time limit. People know how they have created 2 crore jobs per annum and how many jobs are lost due to bad policies. Moreover, why didn’t they give 19 lakh jobs in their last 15 years’ rule in Bihar?

How many seats will Mahagathbandhan win?
We will win because people are fed up with the policies and governance of Nitishji. Unemployment is the biggest problem in Bihar. People are anguished and irritated by rampant corruption and unchecked bureaucracy. Fifteen years of Nitishji have brought only misery to 12.5 crore Biharis. They see a ray of hope in the Mahagathbandhan to resolve their problems. All these shall translate into votes and give us a decisive and historic mandate. Bihar is all set for a revolutionary change.

“No Chance of Nitish Going Back to RJD”

Edited excerpts from an interview with Ashok Chaudhary, working president of Bihar JD(U)

2

RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav has promised 10 lakh jobs if voted to power. What is JD(U) offering the youth?

All the promises made by the opposition alliance in its manifesto are mere claims. Our government, led by Nitish Kumar, has quadrupled the budget of Bihar. Can Tejashwi explain where the money will come from to fulfil his promise? Can he share a blueprint? All his promises are mere election gimmicks.

Chirag Paswan’s LJP is fighting JD(U). Won’t this affect your party’s performance?
He will be a big flop in these elections. In fact, the party’s performance in 2005, 2010 and 2015 shows LJP is a non-player; it is especially true now when Chirag is the face of the party.

How many seats will NDA win?
Looking at the crowd at Nitishji’s rallies — which is bigger than that during Lok Sabha campaign — we are confident of winning 200-plus seats.

What makes you so confident when there seems to be a strong anti-incumbency sentiment against Nitish ?
You can’t expect 100% voters to be happy with the government. Even during the Lok Sabha polls, a certain percentage voted against Nitishji. He has given a new definition of development and changed the perception of Bihar, which has seen a big jump in roads and engineering and medical colleges. The government gave 50% reservation to women in panchayats and brought the most backward castes into the mainstream.

Won’t the handling of migrant crisis become a strong election issue?
Bihar is the only state that has spent Rs 10,000 crore for migrants and Rs5,000 per migrant to bring them back. Even the most developed states have not done so much. There is a lot of applause for the efforts made for migrants.

Nitish has been with RJD as well as BJP. Do you think there is a possibility of his going back to RJD post-elections?
I do not see that possibility.

Contrary to claims of prohibition, liquor is being home-delivered in most parts of Bihar.
This is not entirely true. There have been stray incidents but the police have been very active and are nabbing people involved in such activities.

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