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In Bihar, Nitish Seems To Be Riding Modi’s Coattails

Published: May 16, 2019 12:05 IST
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Just before you enter Patna from NH 31, the chaos begins. For over a kilometre, trucks are parked in one lane, turning a crucial stretch into a parking lot; in the other lane, trucks cut into oncoming traffic. There is no sign of any police even though this happens every day.

It is a screenshot of Bihar as a state of many anarchies despite 13 years of Nitish Kumar as Chief Minster. Nothing (except Nitish's political flip flops) has changed in the last five years that would drive voters to say, yes, here is a man taking us, if not to Ram Rajya, at least a modicum of well being.

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The BJP is fighting the Lok Sabha elections in alliance with Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal United (JDU) in Bihar

In Bihar, almost 80% of the population needs government rations to survive. Almost 12% of all Indians on ration cards live in Bihar. And despite linking the ration card to Aadhaar, people complain of being ripped off. Many complain that they aren't on the ration card list, others that what you get is still the prerogative of the shopkeeper.

If rations are hard to get, the Great Leap Forward of prohibition is snorted at. "There are 300 places down the road where you can get liquor, they will come deliver it in your drawing room. All that has happened is the price has doubled," says tyre dealer Surinder Singh, who says GST has throttled his business. He says he will vote for the Congress, it's better to have a young man in charge than an old one.

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A complete ban on the sale of liquor was imposed in the state of Bihar in April 2016

Almost to a man, in the town and the villages the people agree that prohibition has just made a lot of people rich without stopping the flow. And while they concede that some women are happy, what is the point "jab chori chori chup se sab milta hai, bas the price has gone up" as a young student puts it.

Both in cities and villages, people complain that the police have become the bootleggers. So funnily enough, they can arrest you for drinking what they have sold you.

Student Bhisram Kumar claims that the anger in the state is not about liquor, but about jobs. The railways, he claims, haven't recruited anyone in years. "They publish an exam date and then cancel it."

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Bhisram Kumar, a student in Fatwah (Patna), says jobs is a bigger issue than prohibition

In the Yadav village of Gulni, the anger of the menfolk is palpable. They says that corruption is rampant in rural Bihar. Whatever they want in terms of services or should get as government largesse comes at a price with funds being siphoned whether they are for Swacch Abhiyaan toilets or rural employment under MGNREGA.

An elderly villager quotes Rajiv Gandhi saying "Out of every 5 rupees, 4 goes to them" - and that is the state of Bihar.

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Lalu Yadav was convicted of corruption in 2017 and sentenced to six years in jail (File photo)

And while they may complain a lot, and they have much to complain about if you see their villages, the driving force to vote is caste. Almost all the Yadavs here are promising to vote for Lalu's lantern. And while they accept that Lalu may have done some wrong, they feel the punishment - his conviction and sentence for corruption during an early term as Chief Minister - is more than was required. For them, the lantern must be lit when they vote on the final phase of May 19.

But even in this small group of Yadavs, a trio of younger ones said they would vote for Modi, and stuck to this while being berated in a friendly manner by their neighbours. One of them, Neeraj Kumar, explained that "Modi has brought about change, especially at the top, and while there is corruption at our level, it is indirect...that is to say it does not go all the way to the top, but is local". And he is voting for Modi in the hope hopes that he will be able to regulate that in the long run.

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Neeraj Kumar is a Modi supporter from the Yadav village of Gulni

Down the road, the upper caste Bhumihar Brahmin farmer is not in favour of Modi. He points to his 50 bighas of land and asks what the government has done for him. Where is the water to irrigate his fields? And then in a five-minute speech, he decimates the Modi government's stress on Vikas and nationalism. Scorning the claim of Balakot, he says why praise Modi, it's our soldiers who get the credit.

And yet support for Modi hasn't wavered that much. Sitting next to his lathe machine in Fatwah, Patna district the mechanic says that Modi has dealt with terrorists, built toilets for the poor, opened bank accounts for them and helped build houses for them in villages.

Which is why, Nitish Kumar, despite getting the BJP to give him an equal number of seats to contest in Bihar (17), looks like he is hanging on to Modi's coattails. Having arrived in Nalanda after large Modi rallies in Sasaram and Buxar for his own, he must have been disappointed at the size of the crowd. In 2014, when he was losing, he managed to get a larger and more boisterous crowd at a similar venue. Tuesday's rally was a tepid affair compared to that of Lalu Yadav's son, Tejashwi, which was held nearby.

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RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav at an election rally

Less well organised, his supporters were vociferous and had patiently waited four hours for his arrival in a small helicopter. The heat had not got to their voices and they cheered his arrival loudly. He too, seemed to connect with them far more easily than Nitish. He is a leader to watch.

In a Modi vs the Rest scenario, the numbers are on Modi's side. By giving Nitish 17 seats, Amit Shah surrendered 5 seats the BJP won in 2014 as well as 8 others. But with this combination, the alliance starts off with more than 45% of the vote share in most seats - a huge advantage. And while the NDA may struggle in some constituencies as caste, corruption and prohibition take their toll, the opposition will struggle to overpower them. 

(Ishwari Bajpai is Senior Advisor at NDTV.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.



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