- Nitish Kumar has deployed half his cabinet in Jokihat ahead of by-poll
- Poll result likely to be seen as an indicator of his popularity
- But his popularity depleted after BJP alliance, Tejashwi Yadav insists
In Jokihat 300 km from state capital Patna this week, Mr Kumar didn't betray any signs of desperation on his face. But there are signs.
"If you ensure his victory, I will come three times to listen to all your problems," he says, promising special attention to the constituency - that has voted the JDU in four consecutive elections - if they support the Janata Dal United's candidate Murshid Alam.
Murshid Alam has seven criminal cases registered against him including one of gang rape. In another case, the police had allegedly recovered idols stolen from temples from his house.
It is a background that Mr Kumar is clearly not very proud of. Not when he had just a year back walked out of the grand alliance with Lalu Yadav's party RJD and the Congress because Tejashwi Yadav was being investigated for corruption.
When he can, Mr Kumar who campaign for him on Thursday, tried to avoid talking about his choice of candidate. When he couldn't, he sought to deflect the criticism, pointing that Murshid Alam came highly recommended by local residents and political leaders.
To be sure, Mr Kumar's party did enter the fray with a disadvantage.
Plus, the JDU also has to account for a rebel candidate who is contesting as an independent.
Tejashwi Yadav, who reached here on Friday to spend two days - campaigning ends later today - has been targeting Mr Kumar for his alliance with the BJP and dare him to do what he can to win the election. "We will still win it," says Mr Yadav.
At public meetings, he tells people that Mr Kumar was just the face of the government that was really run by PM Narendra Modi and RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat.
It is a narrative that the RJD thinks resonates with people in this Muslim majority constituency. To make his point, Mr Kumar tells people how the Nitish Kumar government had helplessly waited for the son of central minister Ashwini Choubey to surrender after he allegedly triggered communal disturbances in Bhagalpur.
"A BJP novice was named in the communal riots that took place in Bhagalpur a few months ago. Nitish Kumar could not get him arrested. The accused ultimately surrendered. Mark the contrast with Lalu, who had stopped a heavyweight like Advani", Mr Yadav - who is the leader of the opposition in the state assembly - said without mentioning Union Minister Ashwini Kumar Choubey and his son Arijit Shashwat by name.
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