In Bihar, this is the toughest election that Nitish Kumar will ever face. And possibly the first time he desperately needs the BJP.
Luckily for him, the BJP also needs him. Just a little less desperately.
In 2005, the BJP and JDU together won a historic election in Bihar. They put an end to the darkest era in Indian history that any state had ever experienced. By putting Lalu’s RJD out of business, they set about rebuilding Bihar.
Of course, in the 2005 election, BJP paid for a historic blunder made 5 years ago. In 2000, the BJP had more seats than the JDU. But somehow the thinking in Delhi was all upside down and Nitish Kumar was offered the CM chair. He held on for just a few days before the RJD mustered the numbers with Cong support. But the protocol in Bihar had been set : JDU in the driver’s seat, BJP in supporting role (This is perhaps one of BJP’s biggest blunders ever).
From the point of view of the people however, JDU+BJP was a winning combination. Together they brought new life and new hope to the state. Rule of law. For the poorest and most backward communities, an end to forced labor. For everyone, the safety of knowing that their daughters would be safe walking half a kilometer to college in broad daylight. For businessmen and doctors, knowing that their child could be safe in school, instead of being picked up by the kidnapping and ransom industry.
Sadly for Nitish Kumar, he played on the same wicket for too long. The year 2005 was 15 years ago. How many times will Nitish Kumar remind the electorate about the horrors of Lalu raj? Nobody remembers it today. Yes, the memory of Lalu raj survives in movies and serials, but the first hand experience is either missing or forgotten.
By 2013, Nitish Kumar had become just another politician, perhaps the most opportunist one in the Hindi belt. Betraying BJP, jumping to Congress, then joining Lalu and then back to BJP again. I honestly don’t know what face Nitish Kumar will show to the electorate in the October elections. Is he supposed to take on Lalu Yadav? The last time around, he had come seeking votes for the same Lalu Yadav.
His only consolation is that RJD’s position is worse. Are they supposed to take on Nitish Kumar? Last time, they came seeking votes in his name.
Not that BJP is shining particularly bright in Bihar. But luckily, they might be the only ones with a bit of credibility left. Not much, but still. At least BJP can claim consistency. They have been against Lalu Yadav throughout. It was Nitish who chose to go away and it is Nitish who chose to come back.
And you can see right away that Amit Shah knows it. It is BJP that has to carry the weight of the campaign in Bihar.
What if BJP went alone? By alone, I mean with support from LJP. They could actually win. The BJP’s vote share was very high even in 2015. In the Lok Sabha election, they won every seat they contested. And LJP senses this.
Chirag Paswan has basically made it clear they are with BJP, not Nitish Kumar. He went as far as to say that they would go along if BJP does not project Nitish as the CM face.
BJP+LJP could win, but it’s a risky gamble. And after BJP failing to form govt in Jharkhand and Delhi, they probably want to play it safe. Bihar is too safe a bet to play games with. And you never know how the Coronavirus crisis could have played out in the mind of the voter.
In particular, Shah spoke at length on the migrant worker issue in his first virtual rally in Bihar. He admitted to mistakes, which was the correct political move.
As elections approach in Bihar, NDA’s best move is telling people that things have been going sort of okay, so why change? Especially, when the alternative is clearly known to be worse.
But things have not been going okay in Bihar. There was the horrific case of sexual exploitation at shelter homes for destitute women in Muzaffarpur. There was the triple murder in Gopalganj recently.
Still, I believe the older folks in Bihar will tell the young men and women that this isn’t even close to the terror of RJD raj. At least you don’t have goon squads running through every street, kidnapping women and children, throwing acid on faces and the like. At least there is no forced labor.
In short, Bihar has learned to ask for very little.
This is how bad governance can hurt a state for decades, even after that ruling party is long gone.
There is however, one important achievement that deserves to be pointed out as elections approach in Bihar. In 2015, the Modi government set in motion plans for French major Alstom to open a railway locomotive factory in Madhepura in Bihar. The BJP lost the election, but in the same Nov 2015, the factory was inaugurated. Five years later, the factory is roaring. It has successfully produced and commissioned India’s most powerful locomotive. I repeat: this is not something at some stage of planning and implementation. This is done. Signed, sealed delivered. Made in Madhepura locomotive factory. You may want to take a look.