What began as a reluctant chat on politics at a makeshift shop at Gadai Sarai village, 40 km north of Patna, soon erupted into an animated comparison between Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar, the main contenders for the chief minister’s chair in Bihar.
“Nitish Kumar is a man of his words,” said Subodh Malakkar, member of an extremely backward caste (EBC) benefited by Kumar’s policies since he became CM in 2005.
“You’re now wearing a cap and holding forth here. Twenty years ago, you wouldn’t dare speak,” retorted Parimal Yadav, referring to the empowerment Prasad’s regime had brought between 1990 and 2005 for low castes.
While Lalu is pitching for a second coming, Nitish is seeking a second term as CM.
Everyone, including Parimal, concedes Nitish has done “something”— kuch to kiya hain. Most among the gathering would want Nitish to become CM again, but most do not want to vote for his candidate Nityanand Rai, sitting BJP MLA.
Nitish’s Janata Dal United – JDU- is in alliance with the BJP. “He’s (Nityanand) good for nothing,” declares Malakkar.
“Rajendar Rai is the leader we can trust,” he adds, profusely praising Lalu’s RJD candidate. The dilemma for Malakkar is that if he votes for the MLA he wants in Hajipur, he will not get the CM he wants in Bihar.
In Parsa, JDU MLA Chotte Lal Rai’s unpopularity is matched only by RJD candidate Chandrika Rai’s popularity — putting Nitish supporters in a fix.
Similar situations in many constituencies have cornered people into a dilemma of having to choose between a CM they want and the MLA they want.
Incumbent CMs who retained power since 2007 had denied nomination to a section of their MLAs, besides a slew of redistributive schemes and improving delivery of public services.
Gujarat’s Narendra Modi was the pioneer — 47 of 120 BJP MLAs were replaced in 2007. In 2008, Chhattisgarh CM Raman Singh denied tickets to 18 of his 50 MLAs and retained power.
This, however, is the missing link in Nitish’s winning formula. All but 17 of 136 MLAs of the BJP-JDU are contesting again, and 40 of them are facing strong anti-incumbency. Given the antipathy towards MLAs, Nitish’s line is that the vote is for his governance. “All your grievances will be tackled. Vote for government and its performance,” Nitish tells each meeting.