Source – thewire.in
Last week, prominent Dalit BJP leader in Bihar Sanjay Paswan in an interview with the Indian Express claimed that people of Bihar are now “tired” of Nitish Kumar and need a chief minister from the BJP. “What I have gathered from my extensive tours in nearly 20 districts of the state is that people are now tired of Nitish Kumar. The state now needs a BJP CM, be it is Sushil Kumar Modi, Nityanand Rai, or anyone else,” Paswan, a and a Member of Legislative Council (MLC), told the newspaper.
BJP’s state spokesperson Nikhil Anand was quick to intervene, saying the remarks were Paswan’s personal views. Meanwhile, Janata Dal United (JDU) spokesperson and state information and public relations minister Neeraj Kumar said, “After Amit Shah made it clear that NDA would contest the elections under Nitish Kumar, there is no meaning in Paswan’s statement.” Indeed, on Thursday, while addressing a rally in Vaishali district of Bihar, Shah reiterated that the NDA will contest the next assembly election (due later this year) under the leadership of Kumar, adding the CM will be the face of the alliance.
However, it would be a mistake to believe that there is no substance in what Paswan actually claimed. It is a fact that the Bihar CM, unlike in previous elections, is facing an anti-incumbency sentiment. He is not as popular as he used to be a few years ago. In conversations with several observers of Bihar politics and visits to the state in recent years, I sensed growing resentment amongst people about Nitish Kumar’s rule. His image of Sushasan Babu (the Man of Good Governance) is no longer intact. This is something that he, his party and the BJP’s leadership are acutely aware of.
Signs of Kumar feeling under-confident can be also noticed in his party changing its slogan recently. It can be recalled that in 2015, ahead of the assembly elections, the JDU’s slogan was, “Bihar Mein Bahar Hai, Nitish Kumar Hai (Bihar is blooming, there is no alternative but Nitish Kumar)”. The slogan became very popular and played an important role in his return to power. However, in September last year, the slogan was changed to “Kyun Karen Vichar, Theek To Hain Nitish Kumar? (Why have second thoughts, what is wrong with Nitish Kumar’s rule?)”.
There is a marked difference in the tone and tenor of the slogans. The earlier slogan clearly indicated confidence, claiming there is no alternative to Nitish Kumar as far as the chief ministership of the state is concerned. The latest one, on the contrary, hints that Kumar and his party may be lacking confidence and acknowledges that people may be having second thoughts and that he is no longer invincible.
The BJP and other allies of the NDA also know this well and are hence trying to put pressure on him, albeit indirectly. Last year, Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) leader Ram Vilas Paswan also hinted that Nitish will be the face of the alliance, unless the BJP decides to bring in a different captain. Hence, the latest statement by the BJP leader should be seen in that context.
Reasons for Nitish’s declining popularity
There are several reasons for Kumar’s decreasing popularity. In recent years, several cases of misgovernance have surfaced. This includes, to name a few, Srijan scam, Muzaffarpur shelter home case, death of more than 100 children due to encephalitis, rise in crime in recent years and massive floods in several parts of the state, including the capital. These events have shattered Brand Nitish, the image of a leader who rescued Bihar from the “dark ages” and provided much needed good governance.
As with anywhere else, the media plays an important role in shaping a politician’s image. Local media and journalists played a crucial role in both portraying Nitish as popular and abled leader over the years and also now holding him responsible for the aforementioned events. However, in recent years, unlike his previous regimes, Nitish does have a similar level of control over local media. There was a time when “journalists in Patna often refer to Nitish as Bihar’s editor-in-chief instead of Chief Minister”. As per a report, nobody wanted to annoy the state’s ‘editor-in-chief’ even if the truth flew in their face and hence stories of alleged misrule in the state went unreported.
Assuming that people are really tired of Nitish Kumar, the question then is if a Sushil Kumar Modi or Nityanand Rai – or any other BJP leader for that matter – can provide a pro-people government? The answer is: a state government headed by a BJP leader is unlikely to be any different from the current one. There are two main reasons for this. The foremost reason is, barring a few years, the BJP has been an integral part of the Nitish Kumar-led NDA government in the state since 2005. Sushil Modi is perhaps the longest serving deputy CM of Bihar. Unlike parties like LJP, the saffron party has been a prime partner of the Bihar government and cannot absolve itself from the ‘misrule’ of the Nitish government.
The Jharkhand experience
Moreover, even if the BJP is voted to power with a clear mandate or have an upper hand in the government, there is no guarantee that it will act differently. Clues can be found in the way the BJP ruled in Jharkhand, where the party recently suffered a bad defeat due to its ‘anti-people policies’. During the 2014 assembly elections, the party argued that the people of Jharkhand are disillusioned by lawlessness, corruption and bad governance first during the regime of Madhu Koda and then Hemant Soren. If the BJP is given a clear mandate, it will bring development to the state, the party said. The people did so, voting in the BJP-led alliance. But the way the government functioned, forced the voters to unseat the BJP five years later.
Under Raghubar Das, anti-Adivasi and pro-corporate policies were brought in Jharkhand. Those who tried to protest and resist the policies were branded ‘anti-national’, charged with sedition and jailed. Incidents of mob lynching also increased in the state. Death due to hunger became a common phenomenon. Apart from tribals, Dalits and minorities, other sections of society also suffered. All this irked a large number of voters. So much so that five-time MLA and sitting CM Das lost his traditional seat. Moreover, Das’s former cabinet colleague levelled serious charges of corruption against him.
Today, the situation in Bihar is not very different from Jharkhand in 2014. While it would be a mistake to think people are not tired of Nitish Kumar, the bigger mistake would be to think that a BJP regime will solve the problems the state faces. That’s because the party and its leadership have been part of the problem equally. Denying that is nothing but cheating the people of Bihar.