Tuesday, March 21, 2023
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Arvind Kejriwal’s win in Delhi can change Nitish Kumar’s election preparation in Bihar

For NDA ally Nitish Kumar in Bihar, there are lessons in the Delhi election results.

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If there’s one political leader who must have closely followed the Delhi assembly election, it is Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. After Delhi, all eyes will now be on Bihar when it goes to polls sometime in October this year to elect 243 new assembly members.

The different political somersaults that Nitish Kumar of Janata Dal (United) has done must make him wonder if the mood is turning – after Delhi, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh. Even if he continues to align with Amit Shah and Narendra Modi, the Delhi election may just give him the elbow room he needed for hard negotiations with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The political landscape in Bihar has undergone a sea change in the last five years. In 2015, the mahagathbandhan of Rashtriya Janata Dal-JD(U)-Congress had swept the election and the alliance of BJP-Lok Janshakti Party-Rashtriya Lok Samata Party had to bite the dust. But in 2017, Nitish Kumar snapped ties with the RJD to form the government with the BJP.

If the current political formations in Bihar don’t change for the coming election, then it will again be a two-cornered contest between the NDA and the secular alliance. But going by Nitish Kumar’s mercurial behaviour, one may argue that he could leave the NDA and do something that suits him politically. He is one of those politicians who is not branded communal despite being in the cosy company of the BJP for more than two decades. And Nitish Kumar leverage this position as and when required.

As he sets about preparing for the Bihar election, Nitish Kumar would look at the results from Delhi and read several insights into the voting behaviour of the electorate.

Also read: Why Delhi voters chose Arvind Kejriwal for CM and Narendra Modi for PM

Bijli-pani-sadak-jobs decisive factors

Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP campaigned in Delhi as if it was fighting a municipal election. The AAP focused on the works done by the Kejriwal government and promised it would continue to work for the education, healthcare and civic amenities. This method of contesting the election on issues of welfare guided the speeches, slogans and other aspects of the AAP’s campaign.

We may not prove if the AAP won because of this strategy, but we do know for sure that this differentiated the party from the BJPs vicious campaign. Someone could argue that Delhi voters opted for freebies, but this is well within the broad parameters of the concept of welfare state to make life good and easy for the people. And this strategy wasn’t invented by Kejriwal. The origin of this trend in Indian politics lies in Tamil Nadu.

This begs the question: Can Nitish Kumar win the assembly election solely on the basis of the work he has done in the state for 15 years? It’s difficult to say ‘yes’.

Bihar is still the worst performer in India in terms of human development indices. Unlike former CM Lalu Prasad’s record, Nitish Kumar’s claim to fame is sushashan or good governance. Kumar can certainly not afford to falter on this front now. We have to see how Nitish Kumar fights down this contradiction between perception and actual performance.

Also read: No soft Hindutva, no Left Revolution, Kejriwal establishing a new centre in Indian politics

Communal issues don’t always work

The Delhi assembly election has been one of the most communally-charged elections in India’s recent history. The BJP went above and beyond to rake up Hindu-Muslim issues, its leaders and ministers made incendiary statements like “Goli maaro” and brought up Pakistan once again.

Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh has been at the centre of countrywide anti-CAA protests. And nearly all BJP leaders, including PM Modi, invoked Shaheen Bagh protesters in their speeches.

The BJP also strategically timed the announcement of the Ram Mandir trust on 5 February to coincide it with the Delhi election. But that did not work for the BJP.

What does this mean for Nitish Kumar? During the 2015 Bihar assembly election, the BJP had campaigned mainly along communal lines; cow slaughter was a major political issue.

The JD(U)-RJD alliance countered the BJP’s campaign on the assurance of social justice and reservation. If the BJP launches its campaign on the framework of the Hindu-Muslim binary, Nitish Kumar will have to do a tough balancing because he still wears his secular credentials on his sleeves. If he decides to remain in the NDA, which in all probability he will, then Kumar will have to take a calculated risk.

Also read: How BJP’s Delhi defeat gives ally Nitish Kumar an upper hand in Bihar

Even Modi falters

The recent state assembly elections show that the BJP banks on nothing but Modi to win elections. However, since 2018, the BJP has lost Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Jharkhand and now Delhi, busting the myth around ‘Modi magic’ to some extent.

Migrants from Bihar form a significant chunk of Delhi’s vote base and it will be interesting to see if there exists data on their voting patterns. Modi’s demagogy has proved to be a great asset for the BJP, but Delhi election results again prove that he is not infallible, especially when there are formidable contenders like Kejriwal, Kamal Nath (Madhya Pradesh) and Bhupesh Baghel (Chhattisgarh).

Also read: 5 reasons why Modi-Shah’s BJP lost to Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP in Delhi election

The Prashant Kishor angle

Since the JD(U) has expelled master strategist Prashant Kishor, Nitish Kumar will now have to depend on his party structure to win the election or look for some replacement for Kishor.

Nitish Kumar has won many electoral battles and overcome many challenges in the past. He parted ways with Lalu Prasad in 1994 to form his own Samata Party and contested the assembly election the following year in coalition with the CPI (ML) but had to contend with only seven seats. That is when he decided to side with the BJP. That decision has reaped great political and electoral dividends for Nitish Kumar. Will it work again?

Dilip Mandal is the former managing editor of India Today Hindi magazine, and has authored books on media and sociology. Views are personal.

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  1. BJP should go alone in all upcoming elections.
    There is no doubt that Modi is the only selling point and if BJP aggressively takes up NPR and NRC then there is very good possibility of BJP coming up as the single largest party in Bihar by consolidating on Hindu votes.

    BJP should play smart by keeping Hindu-Muslim aside and pitch for Bahari ( Rohingyaa+Bengali) vs Bihari ( True Indians)

  2. Dilip Mandal is a known stooge of the RJD and hopes to enter Rajya Sabha/ Legislative Council by licking the feet of the Yadav family. Nitish’s decisions have always been in the interest of Bihar and now seeing a. Imminent win for the NDA, well wishers of RJD are sweating and trying to make baseless situations against the Chief Minister.

  3. I feel Kanhaiya would be a big factor in Bihar this time. Look at the response his rallies are getting, these are not paid junta.
    If Prashant kishore manages to bring Kanhaiya Manjhi Kushwaha other ex JDU, on one platform with RJD Congress and the left, while somehow projecting KK as the CM candidate, who knows, it may well be a master stroke! After all, no one dare call son of Bihar, KK, tukde tukde gang in Bihar. I think opposition also needs some fresh leaders, how about someone like Ravish Kumar (ndtv) joining ranks with the opposition… you never say never to any possibility…

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