As Bihar votes today for the first phase of polling, Nitish Kumar, chief minister, is hoping to score a record fourth term. But, Kumar has lost almost all his political capital with his dismal handling of the migrants’ crisis and flood relief.
Kumar is also facing a trap of his ally the BJP’s making in the form of Chirag Paswan, erstwhile friend, now hostile to Kumar yet claiming to have Narendra Modi, Prime Minister, in his heart.
The strain is evident in Kumar. He has lost his cool in every single public meeting making intemperate personal attacks on rival Tejaswi Yadav of the RJD and losing his temper with hecklers.
No longer a cut above the rest
Kumar had always prided himself on being a cut above all the Bihar leaders, claiming he did conscience-based politics and made no personal attacks. That 'sushasan' (good administration) babu is history as Kumar battles his own side and the Opposition. Kumar has gone to the extent of attacking the number of children former chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav had. Yadav is currently in jail and son Tejaswi replied saying that Kumar was also attacking Prime Minister Modi and his siblings.
Kumar has dragged in the troubled marriage of Tejaswi’s elder brother Tej Pratap as all of Bihar watches Kumar meltdown in an epic manner. Chirag Paswan currently facing an embarrassing viral video of him posing near the photograph of his late father Ram Vilas Paswan and changing his lines finally saying: “I have lost the plot” threatens to send Kumar to jail for corruption post the elections.
Kumar retaliates by getting his party spokesman to call him a 'jhamoora' (someone who dances on other's commands). A giant unmissable hint to the BJP on whose behest Kumar thinks he is acting.
Yadav, who was systematically written off by the national media and the BJP IT cell before the elections as a 'Bihar Pappu' (a derogatory reference they started for Rahul Gandhi) in a campaign called 'char Pappu' which I exposed here in Gulf News, has been a revelation. Yadav has addressed 12 public meetings a day and set the agenda for the elections by his promise of 10 lakh jobs. First Kumar and the BJP scoffed at him and then were forced to promise 19 lakh jobs to match.
However the RJD does in the elections, Yadav has come of age as a leader of his rough and ready party. He did not show these chops when he was briefly deputy chief minister of Bihar in the Kumar-RJD government. Tejaswi then was known to skip meetings and stay put in Delhi.
Tejaswi 2.0 has certainly surprised Patna. The Bihar election should have been about the real issues of bijli, sadak, pani (electricity, roads and water), the terrible plight of the returning migrants and the awful corruption of the prohibition imposed by Kumar.
Yet it has descended to the level of vile personal attacks as all the leaders involved showcase their lust for power, personal ambitions and giant egos.
Kumar, despite 15 years in power, can’t boast of his own track record of governance and harks back on Lalu’s 'jungle raj'. The unimpressed voter wants Kumar’s account. Kumar is facing huge anti-incumbency and the BJP, his ally, wants to keep him at arm’s length.
The BJP’s campaign pointedly excludes Kumar with his face not figuring on any posters.
The BJP made a desperate gambit of promising the vaccine for COVID-19 free for the voters of Bihar. Could any promise be more morally repugnant then this - vaccine for votes.
But, this is the Bihar election in a nutshell. With both leaders and voters looking like losers. Bihar needs decent administration as it is the worst performing Indian state on all indices. However, don’t hold your breath on this election providing good governance for Bihar.