The point of democracy is that when people don’t like the government, they vote it out. Right?
Wrong. Sometimes people vote back to power a government they don’t like.
Imagine the plight of a voter who has to go to the polling booth, cribbing and swearing, risking a life-threatening pandemic, and voting in favour of a government she doesn’t like.
What sorcery is this? What has overcome our democracy?
It gets much worse if you think about Bihar, the most political of places. Show me a Bihari who says she isn’t interested in politics, and I’ll show you a liar.
It is equally difficult to find Biharis who say they love their chief minister these days. Nitish Kumar is so unpopular that if you talk to Biharis about him, you’d be dead sure he will lose the coming assembly election. Except, the same people will tell you they’ll vote for a coalition that still has him as the chief ministerial face.
Here is a chief minister who told his own people they are not welcome to return to their own homes when they found themselves unemployed and fearing the coronavirus in India’s big cities. Here is a chief minister who shuts himself off in his ivory tower when Patna is flooded, and when millions of people find it difficult to cope with a lockdown over a pandemic.
Here is a chief minister who now wants to pretend prohibition hasn’t created a bootlegging industry, promoted crime, and caused losses to the exchequer.
Nitish Kumar’s biggest USP was law and order. He had, after all, brought Bihar out of Lalu Prasad Yadav’s ‘Jungle Raj’. But in the last five years, law and order have worsened continuously.
The last five years of Nitish Kumar’s rule have been so bad that the chief minister himself is asking people to look at 15 years of his rule in totality, and then compare it to the 15 years of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD)’s rule, the ‘Jungle Raj’ era.
What a pity that after 15 years, Nitish Kumar’s best defence is that he’s done better than the Jungle Raj? For a leader to rule a state for 15 years and then say his achievement is that he didn’t spread anarchy is an admission of failure.
And yet, he’s going to win!
The Patna consensus
The first survey before the upcoming assembly election in October-November lays bare the Patna paradox.
According to a C-Voter survey, almost 57 per cent respondents say they are ‘angry’ with Nitish Kumar and want him out. Another 30 per cent say they are angry, but won’t vote him out. That’s almost 9 out of 10 people saying: Nitish ji, please retire.
And yet, the survey projects the Nitish Kumar-led coalition sweeping the state with an 11 percentage point lead over the Tejashwi Yadav-led UPA.
This Patna paradox has produced a Patna consensus. In the politics-obsessed state of Bihar, people are sure Nitish Kumar will be booted out of the chief minister’s chair after the election — perhaps, after a few months of the result.
The near certainty of this consensus is the political chatter helping people come to terms with the fact that they are going to be forced to vote for a chief minister they don’t like.
The most baffling question
If a mere 30 per cent people say they want Nitish Kumar to remain the chief minister, the popularity of opposition leader Tejashwi Yadav is half of that. Only about 15 per cent want to see him as CM. In other words, nearly 55 per cent of the respondents want to see neither Nitish nor Tejashwi, the two main contenders, leading Bihar.
Most of those who are willing to suffer Nitish at his worst are people who shudder even more at the thought of the Tejashwi Yadav-led RJD coming to power. As every second person in Bihar will tell you when you ask them about elections, it’s all about caste. Bihar’s swing voters, the ‘Extremely Backward Classes’ or EBCs, have three reasons to vote for the NDA: they like Narendra Modi, they fear the RJD, and they see Nitish Kumar as having been kind to their lot.
With the caste combination of EBCs and BJP-loving upper castes, it is impossible for the NDA to lose in Bihar. The NDA could have another five years with an ageing Nitish Kumar as the chief minister, governing as if the people are incidental to the act. Just keeping the Yadav-Muslim party out is enough reason for the people to vote for Nitish Kumar, and no, Tejashwi Yadav hasn’t been able to change that image. Neither has he been able to emerge as a leader people can trust. How are people going to trust a 30-year old who disappears for weeks on end from the state, and was stuck in Delhi for days as Bihari labourers walked back home? The RJD had two planks — secularism and reservations. One has been finished and the other co-opted. So, the RJD today stands for nothing except Lalu’s impish boys.
Even those who’ll be voting for Tejashwi Yadav and his coalition will be doing so out of a lack of choice. It will be pointless for Yadavs and Muslims to vote for the NDA because it has no space for them, never mind the token leaders.
This leaves you asking a fundamental question about Indian politics today: where are the political entrepreneurs? The leadership vacuum in the state has been clear for a while. Why didn’t anyone try a new coalition, a new party, a new disruption? That’s what is most baffling.
And it’s not Nitish Kumar’s fault. It’s a failure of Bihari intelligentsia and society at large.
The author is contributing editor to ThePrint. Views are personal.