Nitish Kumar Was MIA When Migrants Walked Home: Tejashwi Yadav At Rally

Unemployment has become a major issue in Bihar ahead of state elections, particularly after Tejaswhi Yadav's promise of 10 lakh government jobs

Hisua, Bihar:

RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav aimed at a series of jibes at Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar during an election rally in the state's Nawada district today, criticising the JDU boss for staying put at home for more than four months because of the Covid threat and only coming out to ask for votes.

Mr Kumar had faced widespread criticism over his decision to remain indoors and avoid public interaction during the ongoing health crisis, even as lakhs of Bihar migrants struggled to return home. In early June, after spending 84 days inside, he finally stepped out - to drive 20 meters to the official secretariat, which is next door.

"Nitish Kumar stayed inside the CM house for 144 days. But now he is out of his house. Why? Tab bhi corona tha, ab bhi corona hai. But now he wants your vote, so he has to step out," Mr Yadav, who is challenging Mr Kumar's re-election bid in Assembly polls that start next week, declared.

Back in June, when Mr Kumar made his appearance, Mr Yadav mocked him in a tweet, telling him "if you are afraid (to step outside), I will go along with you".

In today's speech Mr Yadav also hit out at Nitish Kumar over his handling of the migrants crisis - over 32 lakh people returned to Bihar after the national lockdown left them jobless. The state promised jobs and conducted a "skill mapping" programme, but many remain without work.

The RJD leader, who is hoping to stop Nitish Kumar from securing a fourth term as chief minister, has picked up on unemployment in the state - 46.6 per cent, he says - as a major poll platform.

"Did Nitish Kumar give you jobs in 15 years... did he eradicate poverty? What happened to the promised government jobs? What happened to the factories?" Mr Yadav asked today, as he "welcomed" Prime Minister Narendra Modi - who is speaking in support of Nitish Kumar - to Bihar.

"I welcome Modiji to Bihar, now tell us what happened to the Bihar package?" he asked, referring to financial help to a state that has been hit by floods and Covid in the space of a few months.

Mr Yadav also referred to the "double-engine" - a model of development touted by the BJP, in which the same party is in power at the centre and state - asking if it had helped Bihar progress.

Nitish Kumar's JDU and Prime Minister Narendra Modi's BJP have ruled Bihar since 2017. Earlier BJP President JP Nadda, at another rally, said "Modi hain to mumkin hain aur Nitish hain to sambhav hai (Modi, Nitish make it possible)" - a riff on the BJP's 2019 slogan hailing PM Modi.

Unemployment has become a major issue in Bihar ahead of elections, particularly after Mr Yadav's promise of 10 lakh government jobs, which provoked a series of irritable responses from Nitish Kumar.

Earlier this week the Chief Minister took a swipe of his own at Mr Yadav, asking him if he would take money from jail - a reference to his father and former Chief Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav, who is in prison over a corruption scam - to pay the salaries of new employees.

Mr Yadav's insistence that he will provide 10 lakh jobs has also provoked the BJP to respond in kind; on Thursday Union Minister Nirmala Sitharaman promised 19 lakh jobs for Bihar.

The BJP also offered "free coronavirus vaccines", a promise that invited immediate backlash from opposition parties, including the Congress, which has allied with Mr Yadav's RJD for this election.

Bihar votes for a new government across three phases starting October 28, with results due November 10. Mr Yadav's RJD has allied with the Congress and Left parties, while the BJP is backing the JDU.