With the counting of votes in Bihar just hours away, exit polls have predicted either a close contest between the Mahagathbandhan and the NDA. But one thing is clear: irrespective of the outcome, CM Nitish Kumar may end up as the biggest loser.
The three-time Bihar CM, who once enjoyed a clean image and a reputation for his administrative prowess, has already announced he will not contest elections after this.
Nitish’s rise began as part of the Janata movement, which started in the 70s and had taken Bihar, among other states, by storm.
After Lalu Prasad Yadav’s RJD successfully stitched up the Yadav-dominated backward class’ votes with Muslim votes to counter the Ramjanmabhoomi movement (and the upper castes voting the BJP), it seemed unlikely that there will be space for any other player.
Coming from a Kurmi background, Nitish slowly gained support from non-Yadav backward classes, as he began assiduously working on his clean image, in contrast with Lalu’s ‘jungle raj’.
He also proved adept at forging successful partnerships, at least for a while, when he first rode to power in 2000 with the help of the BJP. For the next 10 years, the stock of ‘Sushasan babu’, was on the rise.
But also on the rise was the reputation of Gujarat CM Narendra Modi. Between 2000 and 2010, the two most-talked-about economic models were the Gujarat and Bihar models, and Nitish began to saw himself as Modi’s equal. When Modi was made the BJP’s PM candidate for the 2014 elections, Nitish walked out of the NDA.
A humiliating result in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections for Nitish in Bihar saw him stitch up an alliance with old rival Lalu in order to stop the Modi wave. The duo was able to succeed, defeating the BJP in the state election in 2015 but the victory proved to be costly for Nitish.
Allying with Lalu made a serious dent in his clean image, especially after Lalu was convicted in a series of corruption cases (and later jailed).
In 2017, Nitish decided there wasn’t much gain to be had in continuing with the RJD, and switched back to the NDA fold. While this ensured, he was able to rule for the next three years, the frequent switching of sides, not to mention, his allying with Lalu and then with Modi, resulted in a rapid erosion of Nitish’s own political capital.
Political strategists say the BJP has used the alliance to further reduce Nitish’s appeal among voters, in order to further its own base.
During the 2020 election, the high farm distress and the economic impact of the COVID-19 appear to have sealed Nitish’s fate.
Besides, the opposition has avoided targeting Modi in fear that it could prove counter-productive, making Nitish their primary target. Nitish’s own election pitch has been rather negative – reminding people of Bihar’s ‘jungle raj’ days under the RJD – instead of anything to show for by himself. The BJP, is usual, banking on Modi’s charisma to bail out the NDA.
But in the final analysis, if the NDA wins in Bihar, it will be the BJP's victory. If it loses, it will be Nitish's loss.
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First Published: IST