Supporters of the Janata Dal (United) celebrate the Bihar assembly poll results in Patna on Tuesday.(AP)
Supporters of the Janata Dal (United) celebrate the Bihar assembly poll results in Patna on Tuesday.(AP)

Chirag Paswan’s gambit fails as Nitish Kumar prevails after a bruising battle

The ruling NDA government in Bihar, comprising coalition partners JD(U) and its minor ally BJP, bounced back in the three-phase Bihar elections after a below-par performance in the first phase of polling, which was held on October 28
By Arun Kumar | Hindustan Times, Patna
UPDATED ON NOV 11, 2020 02:09 PM IST

Youth power, embodied by Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) scion Tejashwi Praasad Yadav (31) and Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) chief Chirag Paswan (37), had aimed to dislodge Nitish Kumar (69), the six-time Bihar chief minister and the head of the ruling Janata Dal (United), in the assembly polls, but the latter defied all odds and looks set for another shot at power.

The ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in Bihar, comprising coalition partners JD(U) and ally Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), bounced back in the three-phase Bihar elections after a below-par performance in the first phase of polling, which was held on October 28.

The NDA, despite Paswan’s potshots at Kumar and his decision to go it alone, did the course correction over the next two rounds --- held on November 3 and 7 – as the BJP unpacked its top guns in campaigning, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to take the wind out of the challenger Grand Alliance (GA) or Mahagathbandhan sail and seal the wafer-thin majority.

Also Read: Full coverage of Bihar assembly election 2020

Bihar voters did not give a decisive mandate because of the triangular nature of the contest, which has been the electoral trend in the battleground state for the past 15 years.

The over 7.4 crore electorate was largely unconcerned about the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak --- Bihar was the first state in the country to go to polls amid the pandemic – and women voters also turned up in large numbers in a thumbs up to CM’s caste-neutral core constituency.

The BJP cut back on the JD(U)’s losses, as the LJP had hurt the latter in over 40 constituencies, and made massive gains because of its welfare schemes.

Tejaswhi’s one-million job offers eventually did not resonate with voters as much as perceived.

How did Kumar overcome the insurmountable odds?

Kumar remained the pivot around which the JD(U) revolved. He banked on his inclusive development work and initiatives for the empowerment of women, Dalits and extremely backward classes (EBCs) amid voters’ soaring and, at times, unrealistic aspirations.

Kumar felt the heat in the run-up to the elections for the 243-member Bihar legislative assembly from both within and outside. At one point, it appeared too hot to handle. PM Modi made the difference and saved the day for the NDA in the end.

Kumar found succour in Modi, who he was at odds with for the latter’s nomination as the PM candidate in the 2014 national elections.

PM Modi changed the poll narrative, lifted the voters’ mood and offset the “fatigue factor” of 15-year of Kumar’s uninterrupted rule, the source of the GA’s unrelenting attack and aided and abetted by Paswan’s snide remarks.

Kumar, meanwhile, hit out at his former socialist comrade-in-arms and former Bihar CM Lalu Prasad, who is jailed in Ranchi following his conviction in multiple fodder scam cases. He also attacked dynastic politics and made fun of Tejashwi’s one-million job offer.

“Those who neglected education, health, electricity, roads and spent time encouraging ‘jungle raj’ to promote their family are talking about creating jobs. They could give only 95,000 jobs during the RJD’s 15-year rule. Where will they get money from to pay salaries? The creation of one million additional government jobs will entail an expenditure of Rs 1.44-lakh crore annually. Will they print currency notes? Or will money come from jail? Don’t be surprised if they start their own ‘kaam-dhandha’ in the name of providing jobs,” he had said while branding Tejashwi’s offer unrealistic.

He also tok potshots at Prasad’s wife Rabri Devi for becoming Bihar CM. “When the husband went to jail, his wife was made the CM, but she, too, did nothing for women,” he said, in a reference to the turn of events after Prasad had to give up the CM’s post following his implication in the fodder scam.

In the end, Kumar’s perseverance clinched the deal for the NDA, as he kept reminding the voters of their arduous journey from the lantern age, in an allusion to the RJD’s election symbol, to hi-tech light emitting diode (LED) era and from jungle raj to one of peace and harmony.

He stuck to his development agenda and even accused the opposition to be hand-in-glove with liquor mafia to get rid of prohibition.

He also tugged the voters’ heartstrings, as he appealed during his last public rally in Purnia district last week that 2020 would be his swansong and the electorate must give him a final chance to alleviate their woes.

Chirag Paswan has his task cut out to save the LJP from an ensuing factional feud

Chirag opposed nominations for the 12 Bihar legislative council seats, fielded candidates in all the 122 seats where the JD(U) and its ally Hindustani Awam Morcha (Secular) contested and sang paeans to PM Modi while routinely made snide remarks about Kumar.

The LJP came to be termed as the B team of the BJP, while a cornered JD(U) dubbed it a proxy for the RJD, as Chirag and Tejashwi seemed to be unsparing in attacking the CM.

Chirag was unsparing in his criticism of Kumar.

He branded the Kumar government’s “seven resolves” as a GA programme to attack the piped water and drainage scheme, as a source of corruption, and prohibition an abysmal failure.

He was relentless to find holes in all that the JD(U) took pride in.

“Please share the development you have done in the state in the last five years from the same dias you shared with the PM. In 2014, you had opposed Modi for the PM’s post and today you are begging for his mercy. Why are you quiet on the Covid-19 management, migration and flood misery? Why does it take five years to get a three-year degree? The public will teach you a lesson on November 10 (the day the polls results were to be announced),” he had written in one of his several letters to the CM.

The LJP’s act was a redux of 2005, and it excelled in spoiling Kumar’s party and also helped the RJD’s cause to a great extent to soar its tally.

Now, he has his task cut out to save the LJP from getting roiled in a factional feud.

“Chirag took a calculated risk. It may have worked in one direction. But it did no good to the LJP. He has to live with the tag of a party that cuts votes and indulges in negative politics. The split in votes has helped both the RJD and the NDA. He left an impression in the close contest, where the margin of victory was small, and a fraction of difference in votes proved to be decisive,” said professor NK Choudhary, a political analyst.

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