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Once Bihar’s rising star, Nitish Kumar is a shadow of himself & losing support on the ground

Nitish Kumar, the Bihar CM, was once seen as a potential PM but his recent public meetings have been far from impressive and he is missing on the ground.

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Patna: Nitish Kumar, the Bihar Chief Minister and JD(U) leader, who was once seen as a potential prime minister, is not finding many takers this election season.

The attendance at his public meetings is far from impressive and he is missing from the political discourse on the ground. And questions about sushasan babu — the sobriquet he earned for good governance — draw indifferent reactions. People are vocal about the worsening law and order situation and the highhandedness of the state bureaucracy and the police.

“The strength of Nitish was the fear of Lalu Yadav. This fear has reduced significantly and therefore, Nitish’s political capital has shrunk,” a Patna-based academic told ThePrint, requesting anonymity. “The BJP is now gaining at his cost.”

Also read: Prashant Kishor is a victim of failed efforts for a Nitish Kumar-Lalu Yadav pact last year

The Prohibition gamble

Nitish was expected to earn people’s goodwill, especially of women, after he imposed Prohibition in 2016 but it has only given rise to an illicit liquor industry and mafia.

Ask for a ‘Frooti’ (juice) in Siwan and it may leave a bitter taste in your mouth.

The ‘quarter’ (175 ml liquor bottle) has been replaced by the easily available ‘Frooti’— the popular name given to the liquor-filled packet smuggled from Uttar Pradesh. Tell the name of your hotel in Patna and any taxi driver will tell you the location of paan shops and vendors supplying sundowners. The door-to-door liquor delivery service, too, is amazingly efficient.

Not that Bihar has slipped back into the dark ages as many described the Lalu-Rabri regime.

Nitish was called sushasan babu for the turnaround he brought in the state’s economy and administration. The economy is still doing well, with the growth rate in 2017-18 clocking 11.3 per cent, the highest in the country; it was 9.9 per cent the previous year.

Revenue surplus has increased to Rs 14,823 crore in 2017-18, up from Rs 6,441 crore in 2013-14. According to the Bihar Economic Survey 2018-19, of the total capital outlay of Rs 28,907 crore in 2017-18, 19 per cent was spent on roads and bridges, 24 per cent on power projects and 9 per cent on irrigation and flood control.

P.P. Ghosh, director at the Patna-based Asian Development Research Institute, told ThePrint that the Nitish Kumar government did “exceptionally well” in the road and power sectors.

“Bihar’s economy is growing as fast as the national economy but the social impact of this growth is not satisfactory because it is urban-centric,” he said.

An electric fan-seller in Darbhanga said he used to sell two to three fans a day about five years ago; he now sells 15-20 daily. Sales of refrigerators and coolers have gone up similarly as people get 18-20 hours of electricity every day. Pot-holed highways in the state are a thing of the past as even village roads are pucca now. The roll out of the scheme to provide piped drinking water is also on in full swing.

The BSP (bijli-sadak-paani) factor, which led to the undoing of many governments in the past, seems to be creating pro-incumbency in Bihar. But Nitish’s JD(U) is not seen as the main beneficiary as the credit for the BSP turnaround is being given to Modi.

A resurgent BJP

The BJP rode piggyback on Nitish to come to power in Bihar but there are signs of a role reversal now. Non-Yadav OBCs, extremely backward classes and Mahadalits, who formed the core of the JD(U), are moving towards the BJP, swayed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s appeal. Nitish retains the support of his caste group, Kurmis, who constitute 4 per cent of the state’s population but his appeal among other castes and sub-castes is on the wane.

RJD leader Shivanand Tiwari recently took a jibe at the chief minister, saying that Nitish, who had once reacted angrily after Modi had raised his hand in a Punjab rally — “as if his secularism was tainted”— is now seeking votes in Modi’s name.

The academic quoted above said that Nitish’s USP was his image as a principled politician but his frequent somersaults — abandoning the BJP to join hands with Lalu Yadav and then abandoning him to return to the NDA fold — for power has cost him his credibility. His hate-love relationship with Modi hasn’t helped his cause either.

Nitish had done a hard bargain during seat-sharing negotiations with the BJP, forcing the latter to part with five seats that it had won in 2014. The BJP and the JD(U) are contesting 17 seats each in Bihar. Although the two parties have declared their intent to continue the alliance in 2020 assembly elections, too, there are many sceptics in both parties, who think that Nitish’s falling popularity graph may prompt a re-think in the BJP after the general elections.

Bihar Deputy Chief Minister and senior BJP leader Sushil Modi denied the possibility of a re-think on the alliance in 2020.

“Nitish Kumar is still very popular. Where is the question of a re-think later?” he told ThePrint.

But it’s still May 2019 and the next Bihar assembly elections are 18 months away.

Also read: Nitish Kumar, Sushil Modi face ire of ‘upset’ Bihar BJP MPs

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  1. Nitish Kumar is a dynamic, honest person. He has done a lot of development work in almost all fields in the State. Yes, the condition of education in the State is not good, but perhaps it is beyond the capacity of any politician to improve it quickly. In fact, the standard has gone so low during the last two decades ( I don’t name the persons behind) that it is difficult to find teachers, by the efforts of whom the standard could be raised. Constantly working on this with patience, the standaard could be raised. So, instead of cursing Nitish, better we help the Government have efficient teachers. And, I don’t understand what mistake he did in joining hands with the BJP if he thought the State would develop better under coalition with this party. It’s true that he lost the chance of becoming the prime ministerial candidate of the opposition, in addition to the TEN already existing there, but can’t we rise above politics to look at his change-over step as a sacrifice for the State ? Even a political analysis would reveal that, if at all NDA loses, which it is not going to, the self-designed opposition candidates for prime ministership will only fight among themselves, breaking the lock of the PMO one after the other. Thus it’s the right time that we strengthen Nitish Kumar.

  2. Our family joined Anna hazare’s rally where both अरविंद and kiron बेदी were thr.. As thy thought he is aman of. HNge and will bring some new thoughts in politics.. His voice his biggest हथियार was convincing.. But the day he cheated अन्ना हज़ारे and kiron बेदी न all others वे knew a wrong decision was made.. He then kept attacking मोदी.. Not only by contesting against him but giving loose statements against him.. Which CM does that.. A state CM has to be on the right side of PM for the benefit of state.. Why was A kejriwal attacking Modi for no good reason.. He was never interested in developing दिल्ली.. All his projects and schemes are just small projects to showcase the citizens.. Its not real progress.. CN one imagine the powers of a. Hief minister of a state like दिल्ली… How much he can do.. And this bahurupia is fooling people on one pretext or other.. The people supporting him are also those who want a taste of power through short cuts… Anyone supporting kejiwal have yo remove the mask and think deeply about him as a man and as a politician

  3. By leaving Mahagathbandhan and joining hands with BJP to continue as CM was the biggest mistake committed by Nitish Kumar. Otherwise he could have been the unanimous candidate of joint opposition against Modi ji in this General Election. After the end of General Elections, I doubt continuity of Nitish Kumar as CM and subsequently many of his party members will join BJP and other parties. End of JDU could be seen.

  4. The headline sounds music to my ears. In 2014 I used to see Nitish Kumar as a foil for Narendra Modi. Now I see him as a confused, spineless man. Another man he has taken down with him is KC Tyagi, whom otherwise I found a very balance headed and likeable man on TV debates.

  5. Nitish ji has failed on 2 major accounts one is improvement in higher education and second is unemployment. Development has now stagnated and could not move to higher levels .People requires quality education and employment. The prohibition has proved to be counterproductive giving rise to increased crime.Corruption has increased.

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