Is Arvind Kejriwal CM Nitish's counter to BJP in urban Bihar?

  • Vinod Sharma, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
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  • Updated: Aug 31, 2015 12:47 IST

Nitish Kumar is reticent, so is Arvind Kejriwal about their terms of engagement in the upcoming Bihar polls. But they’ve pow-wowed openly at public functions in Delhi and Patna to send out signals, fuel speculation that they stand together in the key battle against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

That the Delhi chief minister has reservations about sharing dais with Nitish’s allies in Bihar, Lalu Yadav and the Congress, is well known. For that reason, his presence, if at all, at election rallies would be restricted to being seen with his Bihar counterpart.

Short of going the whole hog into the campaign, Kejriwal is keen to share with Nitish the tactics he deployed to fight and squarely defeat the BJP in the Delhi assembly polls. The routing came within nine months of the Gujarat strongman logging a national imprint in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

Except perhaps the optics of being seen with allies with doubtful probity, the challenge before the Nitish-led alliance is no different: the saffron charge piloted by Modi with no chief ministerial candidate; the rival side led, as was the case in Delhi, by a blemish-free contender for power. In this backdrop, the Bihar CM’s companionship with Kejriwal could be geared to counter in urban Bihar the ‘tarred’ downside of his otherwise formidable poll alliance.

In sum, Patna and cities such as Gaya, Bhagalpur and Muzaffarpur are obvious focal areas for showcasing the AAP leader as a proximate stakeholder in Nitish’s battle against Modi, said sources privy to Kejriwal’s thinking. The broad contours of the plan will soon emerge, now that the JD(U)-RJD-Congress front has staged its first mega show of strength in Patna’s Gandhi Maidan.

In AAP’s assessment, the anti-BJP formation appeared a trifle disadvantaged in the state’s urban hubs where  — together with Kejriwal’s popular appeal — the promise of free Wi-Fi could click with young voters the way it did in the Delhi polls. The idea found traction with youth turning out in big numbers during his visit to Gaya in Nitish’s company. It makes good political sense as the literacy rate in most Bihar cities is between 70-80%.

Hold as he does the JD (U) leader in high esteem, Kejriwal might convey to him his appraisal of the three-party front’s campaign strategy through a Delhi-based interface. He’s reluctant to take up pragmatic ideas directly with him “out of sheer regard for his seniority and long experience in politics.”

For instance, the Delhi CM finds Nitish’s statistical ripostes to Modi’s financial package for Bihar as scholastically impressive. But he believes a catchy one-liner could work wonders to debunk on the ground the saffron parivar’s trumpeting of the package as an El dorado the Centre has ceded to the state. Nitish’s description of the package as “counterfeit currency” at the Patna rally could end perhaps the search for the coinage Kejriwal wants to ‘discredit’ the BJP’s celebratory chants.

On the financial assistance issue, the two leaders could at once raise their shared principles of federalism being ‘disregarded’ in Patna and Delhi by the Modi regime: No special status for Bihar; no statehood for Delhi. In what promises to be the best argued contest for the mandate of a people known for their political savvy, Kejriwal’s in-the-face rhetoric would be a perfect counterfoil to Nitish’s oratorical finesse enriched by a keen sense of history.

A force-multiplier! That’s what Kejriwal hopes to be for his Bihar counterpart.

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