Nitish seems to be ahead of the Opposition alliance
Although hullabaloo and hoopla are missing due to the pandemic, the elections to the Bihar Assembly that have just been announced are going to be exciting for a number of reasons. It will be the first state election the Election Commission would be conducting in the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic. The Election Commission has promised to put a number of measures in place to not allow infection to spread owing to polling. Voters will be given gloves. There would be social distancing in the queue. Hand sanitizers would be made available. COVID positive persons would be given a special slot to vote, where they do not come in contact with others. Limits have been placed on the size of the motorcade and campaign and canvassing teams. Let us hope the Election Commission succeeds in coming out of the Bihar election without the blame of causing further spread of the virus. The challenge is huge. A pandemic fatigue has set in. People are taking the pandemic less seriously. The EC’s success will also depend on how responsible and cautious the leaders, campaigners and canvassers of political parties prove to be. There is already a long list of politicians and campaigners who have tested COVID positive in Bihar.
On the political side, the main thing to watch will be whether Nitish Kumar will get a popular mandate for the fourth term. He has been the Chief Minister of Bihar since 2005. Driving the administration with the force of his integrity and zeal for work, he had transformed the state from a stagnant economy to a blooming one. The improvements in infrastructure in his three terms have been huge. Not only every village, but every household is electrified. Most houses in the villages have also got running water. The state GDP has been registering a double-digit growth. However, the state has not been able to attract investments in medium and large industries. There are a few large players that have invested in the state, such as ITC in dairy and Godrej in animal feed, but the investment has not fundamentally changed the structure and composition of the state economy which remains largely agricultural. Employment has grown tremendously in trade, education and healthcare, but the state waits for a big employment generation from industry.
There is a sense of disappointment in the public over many issues, and it is natural that a man who has been chief minister for three terms should attract criticism regarding slow or distorted pace of development or public services. Some of the recent developments—the migrants’ march back to the state from the cities during the prolonged lockdown; the coronavirus pandemic; and the three laws passed by the central government against which farmers are protesting—have only added to the unhappiness with the Nitish regime. As Nitish is the head of the NDA in Bihar, any disappointment with the laws and policies of the Modi government also gets added to his liability.
However, from all accounts it seems more likely that despite negative opinion about his governance during the third term in certain respects Nitish Kumar is going to get another term. The main reason is the continued trust of a large number of people in his integrity and reputation for delivery of performance. However, there are other reasons too. The Opposition alliance called Mahagathbandhan, consisting mainly of the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress, does not seem to pose him a threat. The former chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav was the charismatic leader of the alliance, but he is serving a jail term and cannot be projected as its face. His younger son, Tejaswai Yadav is going to be the Mahagathbandhan’s chief ministerial candidate, but he is not expected to inspire confidence among the public as someone who can be a better chief minister than Nitish Kumar. He was the deputy chief minister in the Nitish government when the RJD was in alliance with the Janata Dal (United). His performance as deputy chief minister was not considered extraordinary. As a matter of fact, he was taken by the public as an acolyte of Nitish Kumar. Tejaswi did not grow his political personality despite being deputy CM also because he worked as his father’s yes-man.