‘BJP candidates may become collateral damage of the massive anti-Nitish Kumar sentiment’.


New Delhi: Ground reports coming from Bihar have indicated that the RJD-led Grand Alliance (GA) has gained the upper edge over the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

According to pollsters, leaders cutting across political parties, political observers and journalists with whom The Sunday Guardian spoke to over the week, the massive anti-incumbency against Nitish Kumar is becoming more pronounced with each passing day even as the 71 seats, which are spread primarily across North Bihar, go to polls for the first phase on 28 October.

The election, according to observers on the ground, including government officials, has turned into an-anti-Nitish election, the benefit of which is being reaped by Tejashwi Yadav, while the BJP candidates are likely to become collateral damage of this anti-Nitish Kumar sentiment.

According to these observers, with Nitish Kumar as the face of the NDA, BJP’s campaign, as of on Saturday, had failed to take off and even the rallies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who looked “overburdened”, did not elicit the kind of response that his rallies and speeches usually do. The fact that top state BJP leaders like Sushil Modi have become undisposed and are not campaigning, has affected the morale of the workers in the state.

During his speech on Friday, which was Narendra Modi’s first of the 12 scheduled rallies in the state, he regretted that Nitish Kumar could not perform during the 10 years of UPA rule and did not perform during his 18 months association with the RJD in Bihar (in 2015 when he contested the election as a part of the Grand Alliance with the RJD).

PM Modi, while addressing public meetings at Dehri-on Sone in Rohtas district, Gaya and Bhagalpur, said that both he and Nitish Kumar were Chief Ministers of their respective states during the UPA regime for 10 years. However, Nitish Kumar could not do much for his state and when he joined hands with RJD to form the state government, he was not allowed to perform. The PM made this speech while Nitish Kumar was present at Dehri and Bhagalpur meetings.

PM Modi said he could get only 3-4 years to work with Nitish Kumar, and even in this short time, the Bihar government was able to increase the speed of development work in the state. Modi also stressed upon the assistance that the Bihar government got after he became Prime Minister and claimed that the state had received Rs 1.25 lakh crore special package, that created new infrastructure, medical colleges, roads and high-ways. Modi said that at least 18 bridges were either completed or nearing completion on the Ganga in Bihar.

Also, in a significant development, the PM did not attack the LJP or its leader Chirag Paswan as JDU leaders were expecting him to. Rather, the PM remembered Ram Vilas Paswan and recalled his close ties with him that lasted till his last moments. It is pertinent to mention that Chirag Paswan has been critical of Nitish Kumar and has fielded his party candidates against the JDU candidates. This had led to concern among the JDU that Chirag Paswan was working on a plan devised by the BJP to weaken the JDU and ensure that the JDU wins in less number of seats than the BJP.

Chirag Paswan, who started his campaign from 23 October, has fielded 29 BJP rebels and two sitting JDU legislators as LJP candidates. For the Jamui Assembly seat, Chirag Paswan, who is the Lok Sabha MP from Jamui Lok Sabha seat, extended open support to Shreyashi Singh, who is the BJP candidate. Shreyashi Singh is the daughter of Digvijaya Singh and Kumari, both who had represented Jamui in Lok Sabha in the past.

According to one Bihar based BJP spokesperson, the NDA, at least in the first phase, has been reduced to playing the “catch-up” game after Tejashwi Yadav’s promise of providing 10 lakh jobs as the first Cabinet decision if he becomes the Chief Minister, has caught the imagination of the youngsters and their dependents , who are in desperate need of jobs due to the economic slump caused by Covid-19.

“We cannot hide the fact that Nitish Kumar was not able to generate jobs in the state during the last 15 years. To be honest, we were not expecting this (Tejashwi Yadav announcement regarding the jobs). The response that this promise has got plus the strong anti-incumbency against Nitish Kumar has put us on the backfoot. As of now, it is advantage to Tejashwi Yadav. Our campaign has not taken off as people, especially the youngsters, are clearly suffering from “Nitish-fatigue,” he said.

“Fighting the elections with the same face (Nitish Kumar) for 15 continuous years has its disadvantages. People are not coming to our rallies. We might have to redo our campaigning strategies for the next phase while keeping the anti-incumbency against Nitish Kumar in mind,” the BJP functionary said.

In contrast, if the crowds attending the rallies are any indication, Tejashwi Yadav, who is the face of the Grand Alliance, seems to have emerged as the choice of the young voters of the state, many of whom are idling in the state, unemployed, after they had to come back to Bihar due to lockdown.

However, the BJP believes that it is too early to call out the elections. “In 2015, the elections turned on its head just days before the polls because the Opposition was able to create a confusion that we were against reservation (referring to the statement made by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat). In the present polls, the majority of the seats (172) are scheduled for the second and third phase. In the coming days, we are going to remind the voters about the jungle Raj that will return if the RJD comes to power. The fact that people like Anant Singh and Reet Lal Yadav are RJD’s mascot in this election shows the real face of the RJD. Tejashwi Yadav is talking about jobs, but the real character of the RJD is to support criminals and hooligans and promote dons,” he added.