Bihar Bypoll Debacle Weakens Nitish Kumar, Triggers Calls For Him To Give Way To Tejaswi Yadav
Emotional appeals of CM Nitish Kumar did not cut much ice, even among their loyalists, despite the JDU's best efforts.
Nitish Kumar may have to battle and soon heed to calls from the RJD for him to step aside for Tejaswi Yadav.
The defeat of the Janata Dal (United) (JDU) candidate in the bypolls to the Kurhani Assembly seat is a setback for Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. A setback that has triggered tensions between his party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD).
The Chief Minister and the RJD had invested considerable political capital in the bypolls. Kumar had campaigned jointly with his deputy, Tejaswi Yadav, in Kurhani. The two had appealed to the electorate to vote for the JD(U) candidate Manoj Singh Kushwaha.
Kurhani had elected the RJD’s Anil Kumar Sahni in the 2020 Assembly elections, but the legislator was disqualified after being convicted for fraud when he was a Member of Parliament (MP) a few years ago.
Tejaswi Yadav made a powerful emotional appeal to Kurhani’s electorate by reminding them that they would be voting on a day when RJD supremo (Tejaswi’s father, Lalu Prasad Yadav) would be undergoing a kidney transplant in Singapore.
“Your votes will give my father strength and a long life. Shower your blessings on him by voting for Kushwaha. My ailing father’s well-being depends on your votes, which will be your blessings for him,” said Yadav junior.
Nitish Kumar also issued emotional appeals, telling voters of Kurani that their support for Kushwaha will strengthen his hands and will be an endorsement of the JD(U)’s alliance with the RJD.
“Your vote for Kushwaha will be a vote for the mahagathbandhan (the RJD-led grand alliance that Kumar joined in August after ditching the BJP) and a vote for Bihar’s bright future,” he had said during the poll campaign.
But those appeals did not cut much ice and the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) Kedar Prasad Gupta won by a convincing margin of 3649 votes.
Senior JD(U) leaders, including Nitish Kumar had also pitched the electoral battle in Kurhani as the first direct fight between his party and the BJP since he parted ways with the saffron party three months ago.
They had told the electorate that Kushwaha’s win will act as an endorsement of the Chief Minister’s decision to break the alliance with the BJP and join hands with the RJD.
But that appeal, too, failed and the results can now be taken as the Kurhani electorate’s thumbs down to Kumar ditching the BJP to return to the mahagathbandhan (which he had unceremoniously ditched in 2017).
That is also why RJD’s voters did not support Kushwaha. A detailed analysis of the results show that despite their best efforts, RJD leaders and ground-level functionaries could not ensure the transfer of the votes of their loyalists to the JD(U).
This non-transference of votes proves that the RJD-JD(U) alliance has not worked on the ground and voters have not accepted the alliance. RJD’s core voters, especially the Yadavs, did not vote for the JD(U) candidate.
RJD poll managers concede that despite their best efforts, many of the party loyalists did not vote. That reflected in the low turnout of voters (57.9 per cent) as compared to 64.19 per cent in 2020 and 65.13 per cent in 2015.
Many RJD voters did not go to cast their votes because they did not want to vote for Kushwaha. The Yadavs have no love lost for the sections of Other Backward Classes (OBCs) who form the JD(U)’s core constituency.
The by-election results have also shown that the Vikasheel Insaan Party (VIP) could not dent the BJP’s appeal among Bhumihars who are said to be BJP loyalists.
The VIP had fielded a Bhumihar, Neelabh Kumar, and speculation was rife that Kumar would upset the BJP’s applecart by taking away a large chunk of Bhumihar votes.
But that did not happen, thus proving that the BJP’s appeal amongst the Bhumihars remains strong. And also that the BJP, despite being in the Opposition, continues to command the support of its loyalists.
In stark contrast to the non-transference of RJD votes to the JD(U) candidate, the supporters of the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) — Dalits, extremely backward castes and some backward castes — voted for the BJP.
The LJP had suffered a split with founder Ram Vilas Paswan’s brother Pashupati Kumar Paras parting ways with his nephew (Paswan’s son) Chirag. But the BJP got the two together on the same platform and the duo campaigned together for the BJP candidate.
Chirag Paswan and his uncle (Pashupati Paras) jointly appealed to LJP supporters to vote for the saffron party. An analysis of the results show that the appeal worked and LJP supporters backed the BJP candidate.
All this is bad news for Nitish Kumar. The setback in Kurhani weakens his position in the mahagathbandhan and proves that he has lost his sheen.
“Many in Bihar had said that the BJP used to piggyback on Nitish Kumar’s appeal to win seats in the state. Kurhani has shown that this is not true at all, and BJP can win on its own in a direct contest with the JD(U),” BJP Rajya Sabha MP Sushil Kumar Modi told Swarajya.
Sushil Modi, who was once close to Nitish Kumar and served as deputy CM under Kumar when the two parties (BJP and JD-U) were allies, said that Nitish Kumar should now take moral responsibility for the debacle and resign.
State BJP president Sanjay Jaiswal echoed Sushil Modi and called for Kumar’s resignation.
“The results show that the people have given their verdict against the mahagathbandhan and have expressed their disapproval for Nitish Kumar ditching our party (the BJP). They have punished Nitish Kumar and he should accept the people’s verdict and step down,” said Jaiswal.
Senior BJP leader Samrat Chaudhury, who was a senior minister when BJP was part of the government, said that Nitish Kumar’s appeal has faded away and he is facing acute anti-incumbency.
“Kurhani is the beginning of Nitish Kumar’s downfall. The results prove the old saying that it is not possible to fool all the people for all the time. People of Bihar have started realising that Kumar has done little for the state and have started seeing through the false aura that has been created around Nitish Kumar. Kumar’s bubble is bursting,” Chaudhury told Swarajya.
What will distress Kumar is that these sentiments are shared by a growing number of RJD leaders. Senior RJD leader Shivanand Tiwary, who had advised Kumar in end-September this year to take sanyas (retirement) from active politics and start an ashram, repeated the call.
A senior RJD leader who is very close to Tejaswi Yadav told Swarajya: “The Kurhani byelection results have shown that there is a lot of anti-incumbency against Nitish Kumar. He has been in power for nearly 17 years now, but Bihar is still poor and backward and lags behind other states."
"There is huge unemployment and most parts of the state remain undeveloped or under-developed. There is also widespread poverty. The so-called ‘Nitish model’ (of development) has not worked,” he added.
Lalu Yadav loyalist Santosh Prasad told Swarajya that Nitish Kumar “has lost his sheen”. “He should resign now and make way for Tejaswi. People of Bihar want to see Tejaswi as the chief minister. Bihar will progress a lot under Tejaswi. Nitish Kumar’s days are over”.
Many other RJD leaders expressed similar sentiments and said that Nitish Kumar ought to step down now.
“After 17 years in power, Bihar has little to show in terms of governance. There hasn’t been much improvement in social sectors. Nitish Kumar has failed to attract investments and Bihar’s economy continues to be in the doldrums. His well-crafted image of sushasan (good governance) babu is actually a sham and people are realising it now,” said a senior RJD leader who is also a minister.
Kumar will now have to battle growing calls from the RJD for him to step aside for Tejaswi Yadav. These calls will only become stronger in the days to come and Kumar may, sometime in the foreseeable future, have to heed them.
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