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Why is Nitish wary before the crucial Elections in Bihar?

18 October 2010 View Comments

Janata Dal United  (JDU)

Leader: Nitish Kumar
Election Symbol : Arrow
Alliance Partner: BJP
Contesting: 141 seats out of 243 seats

On the face of it, JDU seems to be sitting pretty. From being consistently pegged at the bottom most rung on all development fronts for the past many decades, Bihar has slowly nudged upwards. It has even managed to lead the way in some spheres with its fast growth rate (second only to Gujarat nationally), innovations such as ‘Jankari‘ (a call center for RTI application), first state to implement 50% reservation for Women in ‘Panchayats’ besides Patna being recognized as the second best city to start business and notching up the highest personal income tax collection growth rate. Its Chief Minister, Nitish Kumar has swept an impressive list of awards during his tenure including Business reformer of the year award by ET (2009), Indian of year award by NDTV (2009) & CNN-IBN(2008), Best Chief Minister award by CNN-IBN, HT (2007) etc.. International media too have fallen head over heals in serenading him for turning around the once lost state of Bihar. The list is long and includes The New York Times, Newsweek, World Bank, BBC, Wall Street JournalThe Economist etc. All this has created a mini euphoria. The opposition has quickly latched on to this and have sarcastically christened him as ‘Sushashan Babu’ (Good Governance Bureaucrat) cornering him over every small and large failure of his Government. Nitish Kumar himself is wary of the euphoria drawing lessons from the earlier defeats of BJP Government at the Centre due to ‘India Shining’ as well as the defeat of Chandra Babu Naidu in Andhra Pradesh. But euphoria is not his only worry. His major worry is whether his development work has filtered through to the large illiterate, rural rural population that holds the key to the elections. The opposition claims that much of the development is an urban phenomenon and the conditions of the rural masses have only worsened. Their hope is that the rural population will not be swayed by the development agenda of Nitish Kumar and will vote on traditional issues of caste alignment and will even punish Nitish for his elitism. Behind the bonhomie and confidence of Nitish Kumar, his tension too is palpable thanks largely to the drubbing that NDA got during the last bye-elections held in 2009 where it could muster just 5 (JDU-3, BJP-2) out of 18 seats and the RJD-LJP combine notched up 9 seats and Congress 2 seats. But in a way the defeat has also served as an early warning signal to him and prevented him from going overboard in trumpeting his achievements. In fact he shrewdly refers to his own failure in the energy sector by declaring it as his next priority if he wins this election. He also contrasts his 5 years of rule with the 15 years of RJD and 40 years of Congress and calls his governance as work still in progress.

Nitish Kumar, Izhar Ahmed

Nitish welcomes Izhar Ahmed, lone Muslim LJP MLA into JDU

He is also leaving no stones unturned on the traditional fronts. Behind the facade of fighting elections on performance he is also desperately trying to mend his caste fences by admitting politicians from other parties in droves. The loss of Lallan Singh, the erstwhile JDU state unit president has hurt him much more than the last time when he faced similar desertion of the previous state unit president, Upendra Kushwaha (now back again with him but is grumbling too). He was his closest confidante and an insider to all the machinations of Government formation. The loss of Prabhunath Singh, has also increased his trouble and led people to surmise whether he’s loosing his support base among the ‘forward castes’. The disarray in BJP, its alliance partner which has a strong base among the forward castes, has also strengthened this feeling. The electoral significance of his ‘Chanakya niti‘ in courting the Muslim and Maha-Dalit community (both of which are directly aimed at the support base of Lalu Yadav and Ramvilas Paswan) is yet to be seen on ground. If he does succeed here it will more than make up the losses elsewhere.

The biggest problem that JDU has is that it is at best a 2 man party – Nitish Kumar in Bihar while Sharad Yadav holds fort in Delhi. Apart from these two there are hardly any other leaders of reckoning in JDU. There is virtually no second line of command. Beyond this, Nitish suffers from a natural distrust of politicians within his own party. He has run the state for the past 5 years largely on the shoulders of bureaucrats. This is plainly evidenced in his two Rajya Sabha nominations to N.K. Singh & RCP Singh, both former bureaucrats. All this has led to a simmering tension within his party where several leaders have complained that the bureaucracy has become all too powerful. The workers too are too are unhappy with his no-nonsense style of functioning. Even though his image as a performer is supreme, the workers that oil the party machinery are nursing grouses. In a favorable wave situation, none of this will matter but it could spring a surprise if the contests is close.

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