Patna: Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar’s much hyped “Nitish magic”, which worked in the previous elections, appears to have faded now. In the ongoing Lok Sabha polls the Nitish ‘factor’ is not visible any more. In fact, the chief minister himself has been promoting ‘brand Modi’ (Prime Minister Narendra Modi) this time in place of his own brand that was at the centre of state politics till few years ago.
This is the first time that Nitish Kumar is himself playing the Modi card after probably realising that his own popularity has declined and his political credibility is at an all-time low.
Sensing this more than any one, the Janata Dal-United (JD(U) leader has been repeatedly taking the name of Modi, praising him and lauding his works, including different schemes, but is silent on the promises made by Prime Minister to Bihar during 2014 polls, when Kumar was opposing Modi.
However, the truth is that even the Modi card does not seem to be clicking with the voters this time. Take, for example, the missing Modi euphoria in election campaign that has concluded for three phases out of the seven-phase poll, on April 11, 18, and 23.
A seasoned politician as he is, Nitish Kumar faced a challenging battle on the ground in early April itself ahead of first phase of polls and was talking more about Modi’s developmental initiatives than his own achievements.
During his campaign in Seemanchal, Ang, where polls just concluded and even praised Modi for taking action against terrorism and countering terrorism.
While campaigning in Madhepura, Seemanchal and Koshi, he did not mention a word about his old demand of special category status to Bihar from the Centre and special funds for development of flood-prone Seemanchal-Koshi and Ang. These three regions comprise 14 out of 40 Lok Sabha seats of Bihar.
“This change in Nitish Kumar has surprised everyone. What has disappointed many is the manner in which he has been chanting Modi’s name” said Mahendra Yadav, who works among flood victims of Seemanchal and Koshi.
Going by the issues, tone and strategies of the election, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is heavily dependent on Modi. There is no Nitish-centric campaign in Bihar but a JD(U) leader Neeraj Kumar claims, “Nitish is the face of NDA and the Nitish brand is still relevant. He is the only leader with acceptance across all sections and his image is still a big asset for NDA”
However, political activist Satyanarayan Madan said the Nitish Kumar brand faces a crucial test in 2019 as “he is not in a position to repeat NDA’s 2009 performance in Bihar and has already lost face and is now fighting to save his perception.”
Earlier, during the campaign, “He used to play his vikas (development) card and was so confident that he had convinced BJP’s top leadership, including L K Advani, to not invite Modi, who was then Gujarat’s Chief Minister to campaign in the 2009 Bihar assembly polls and in the 2010 Lok Sabha polls.” a JD-U leader said.
According to political watchers, BJP had used the Nitish brand to fight against Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) since the mid-1990s till early 2000.The BJP had projected a clean image of Nitish Kumar as suitable face for chief minister in the 2005 Assembly polls and it had clicked.
Soroor Ahmad, a political analyst, said as Nitish Kumar has little to highlight after 2010, he is harping on the Modi ‘factor’ but people, including BJP workers, no longer trust him. They fear that he may once again change sides after elections. “This is his political credibility crisis now,” he added.
Ahmad said when the CM talks about ‘jungle raj of 15 years during RJD rule, people were counter-questioning him about the Srijan scam, Muzaffarpur shelter home rape case and deterioration of law and order.
Nitish Kumar’s political credibility was badly damaged after he dumped RJD and once again joined hands with BJP to form the government in July 2017.
Anti-incumbency, both at the Centre and state, is also proving to be deterrent for voters. Despite repeatedly claiming ‘rule of law’ in Bihar during the ongoing campaign, the ground reality tells a different tale. “Crimes have increased compared with the last decade. There is lawlessness and fear. Nitish Kumar has lost his USP of a crime-free Bihar,” Sandeep Kumar, a social activist in Madhepura, said.
Opposition leaders have also questioned Nitish Kumar’s claim that he would not compromise on the three Cs -- crime, corruption and communalism. While the reality is that corruption in Bihar has increased manifold, crime is at its peak and communal forces are free to do anything.
Even the CM’s move to declare Bihar as a dry state was only initially a success and was seen as a revolutionary tool for social change among the poor who were addicted to liquor. But soon after the liquor ban was exposed, the state has turned into a hub of illegal liquor manufacture, sale and consumption.
The RJD is largest party that has an alliance with Congress and three smaller parties to carve out of a new caste equation in its favour, and seldom misses an opportunity to nab Nitish Kumar over poor law and order in the state.
Education, too, is badly hit. Manoj Kumar, a CPI (M) leader, said “education, from primary to the higher level, has totally collapsed in the state. Not to talk about the quality of teachers in schools and colleges.”