Can Nitish Kumar save his position as Tejashwi Yadav turns the Bihar elections on its head?
There is something electric in the air of Bihar these days. If reports coming in from the state and now backed by the exit polls are a thing to go by, a seismic electoral shift, unthinkable barely months ago is about to ...
There is something electric in the air of Bihar these days. If reports coming in from the state and now backed by the exit polls are a thing to go by, a seismic electoral shift, unthinkable barely months ago is about to happen and 31-year-old Tejashwi Yadav might just be about to script the biggest electoral upset in recent years. Nitish Kumar, the three-time chief minister of the state, and his ally the all-powerful BJP are about to be humbled in their own backyard.
This election has without a doubt been about Tejashwi Yadav and Nitish Kumar. The Bihar chief minister has been held to account by his people and appears to be on the wrong side of popular opinion in Bihar.
Having more than once worsted the irrepressible Lalu Yadav, Nitish Kumar will, in all probability, have to experience the mortification of being drubbed by Lalu’s son Tejashwi Yadav, somebody who grew up playing on his lap. Sometimes there is more than a bit of irony involved in the way politics evens up the score.
Nitish Kumar was, till not very long ago, seen as the best and brightest from amongst the crop of leaders that came out of the JP movement. He was calm, dignified, methodical, had no dynastic linkages. There were no criminal or corruption charges against him. His track record as chief minister at least in the first two terms rightfully earned him the title of ‘Sushan babu’. He was at one time as looked upon as the Opposition’s answer to Narendra Modi.
This election could cost the Bihar chief minister more than just the chair. Today he stands diminished, about to lose the elections and possibly his legacy as well. A lot is likely to change for him after this election. He will no longer be able to dictate terms to the BJP.
Going forward if the BJP decides to continue with the alliance, it will have to be on the BJP's terms and no longer Nitish Kumar’s. By all indications the BJP is likely to do better than the JD(U), provided this alliance continues, henceforth the JD(U) will have to be the junior partner and Nitish Kumar can no longer hope to be its face in Bihar.
Bihar, in many ways, also exposes the limitations of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah’s ability to win elections in states where they do not have a strong local face. On paper, they put together a formidable alliance not just of parties but of the social groupings that these parties represented.
Evidence from the ground suggests that the Prime Minister remains popular but his popularity is not enough to win his party or his allies elections in states. Delhi, Jharkhand and now Bihar have underlined that reality. The BJP was hoping that a win in Bihar would provide them a shot in the arm ahead of the all-important Bengal assembly elections next year. That has not happened. It will also force the BJP’s political managers to go back to drawing board and reboot their plans for Bengal.
The BJP will in all likelihood continue with the JD(U) in the NDA. After the exit of the Akali’s and the Shiv Sena, the NDA has only Ramsdas Athavle’s party as an ally. It will also need the help of the JD(U) MPs in the Rajya Sabha to pass key legislations.
However, the ties are likely to be tested severely in the days ahead, especially once the BJP decides to go forward with some of its key ideological legislation on issues like uniform civil code or CAA. Towards the end of the campaign, Nitish made his opposition to Yogi Adityanath’s statement of throwing out people once CAA was implemented.
This election marks the emergence of Tejashwi Yadav from his father’s shadow. He has scripted this remarkable turnaround all on his own. There has been something magnificent about his performance. The sheer dynamism and energy that he has brought to his campaign has been infectious.
It takes a lot to move out of the RJD’s time-tested formula of catering to the MY, i.e. Muslim Yadav core constituency. He has subtly replaced social justice with economic justice. It takes some doing in caste-ridden Bihar to persuade a section of the upper castes, who have been at the receiving end of his father’s term in office, to give up their reservations and vote for the RJD.
Anecdotal evidence now backed by exit poll data suggests that Tejashwi has succeeded in achieving what his father never could. Tejashwi has through his spirited campaign not just turned this election on its head but may well have established himself as a gen-next leader worthy of note.