By Arun Srivastava
Impervious of the defeat of his JD(U) candidate by the BJP contender in Kurhani assembly by-election, the leader of the seven party Mahagathbandhan, Nitish Kumar in a clarion call to his opposition friends underscored the need for coming together to successfully counter the BJP. After the defeat while the BJP leaders were crying hoarse and demanding his resignation, the JD(U) national meet provided a major boost to his political stature by assigning him with the task to accomplish “Mission 2024” to bring the Opposition on a platform for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
Nitish came out with this avowal of unity on December 10, barely two days after the announcement of the election result, at the national convention of his party in Patna. At the meet he specifically emphasised that the era of “political untouchability” was over in the country. Use of this phrase has wider implication. It implied that BJP has been practicing the politics of exclusiveness and treated all other parties as pariah. Coming out with this observation at the convention which was discussing emergence of political scenario in the aftermath of the recent Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh polls, is quite significant.
It abundantly made it clear that he was not all shaken at the defeat of his candidate at the Kurhani by poll. The BJP ably supported by a section of the media was busy creating the impression that the people of Bihar has rejected his leadership as well as the Mahagathbandhan. The crusade against Nitish was launched by none else but his one tine protégé, the BJP leader Sushil Modi. Even the poll strategist Prashant Kishor, who was groomed by Nitish as a politician, did not lag behind in demanding his resignation.
Of late Kishor has taken upon the task of demeaning the stature of Nitish. It has got many political dimensions. He alleged; “People are not happy with the performance of the ‘Mahagathbandhan’ government. I have been interacting with people over the last several days, and I can say with full confidence that they are fed up with rampant corruption in the state. The Kurhani bypoll result is a reflection of people’s anger against Nitish Kumar.”
Might be his allegations have some element of truth. But there are other reasons which have been responsible for the election reverses. There is no denying that the result for the Kurhani assembly seat has not gone in favour of Nitish and his seven-party Grand Alliance. The victor was the BJP’s Kedar Gupta, who has beaten Janata Dal United’s Manoj Kushwaha by 3,662 votes. However this was not the first case since Nitish ended his alliance with the BJP.
Before this RJD had won Mokamah assembly by election. But the media has been trying to present RJD and JD(U) as two separate political identities and not belonging to Mahagathbandhan. Certainly this is a devious game. But it is also a fact that RJD had lost the Gopalganj seat only a month back. This time the seat was given to JD(U) as the part of the electoral adjustment, an attempt is being made to put the blame on Nitish.
The BJP is aware that with the elections to the five state assembly elections due in 2023, Nitish would again reinvigorate his move to unite the opposition. His initiative will gain momentum in the post Gujarat and Himachal assembly elections is a known fact. Obviously they are contemplating to use the Kurhani defeat to malign him amongst the opposition rank. Nitish’s detractors are busy projecting the defeat as the referendum on the new Mahagathbandhan in Bihar. It is not that BJP has won Kurhani seat for the first time. It had won the seat in earlier elections too. BJP’s Kedar Prasad Gupta won by over 3,600 votes as he got 76,722 votes as against 73,073 votes garnered by his JD(U) rival Manoj Kushwaha. The victory was sweet for Gupta as he had lost from the same seat to Anil Sahani of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) by a margin of about 750 votes in the 2020 Bihar election.
The BJP leaders and media have refrained from putting the blame for defeat on RJD, It is worth recalling that Tejashvi Yadav, before leaving for Singapore to attend to the kidney transplant of his father Lalu Yadav had said that he would be watching the election proceeding from his hospital bed and also ensured to get a response from the audience that to fulfil his desire they would vote for the JD(U). But the voting pattern underlined that this did not happen.
The design behind the Kurhani win had its echo at the BJP victory rally held at the BJP headquarter in Delhi. From Narendra Modi to Amit Shah and party president J P Nadda all the top leaders eulogised it and described as the beginning of the decline of Nitish’s aura and image. It is a known fact that Modi and Shah have been cut up with Nitish ever since he parted ways and revived the Mahagathbandhan. He started making moves for a broad-based Opposition unity in the country soon after breaking away from the NDA and met top leaders from the Congress, the Left and other parties.
Nonetheless the fact cannot be ignored that Nitish had to be more cautious and alert to pre-empt tis nature of attack. One of the prime reasons that is being cited for the defeat of Nitish’s candidate is the ban on sale of liquor. Under the law, imposed in April 2016, not only branded alcohol, but also toddy has been banned. This admittedly has adversely affected the employment of lakhs of people from the Dalit community in the entire state. The police action which has been quite constricted has further created among the Dalits. They allege while the rich and influential upper caste are having easy access to liquor, they are sent to jails.
The police action in cases of violations of toddy ban has been quite harsh. There was a lot of resentment among the local people. Incidentally the Kurhani constituency has about 18 percentage population of Dalits. Leaders of the JD(U) are now hoping that the result of this election will force a rethink on the liquor law in the state. Chirag Paswan, son of Ram Bilas Paswan, for the first time succeeded in his endeavour to project himself as a dalit leader. Even some dalit leaders belonging to the Mahagathbandhan openly expressed their resentment on the ban during election campaigning.
In Bihar, the Pasi community (which includes Paswan, Manjhi, and Dusadh) has a population of about 20 lakh. They fall under the Scheduled Castes and the community is economically backward. Their livelihood is mainly dependent on toddy. On November 29, the Pasi community held a demonstration in Patna, demanding that toddy should be kept out of the purview of the Prohibition Act.
Describing this defeat as a “very serious sign”, the Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist) Liberation [CPI (ML) L] said it was unexpected. The party’s secretary, Kunal, said that the Grand Alliance should avoid complacency and understand that the BJP is known for “conspiracies” and should not be taken lightly in any case.
As Nitish and Tejashwi claim to focus on good governance, they must ensure that the crime is checked and criminals are reigned. Criminal activities are the most visible incidents and these are often used to defame any government and malign its leaders. Nitish government is found to be faltering on some front. At two government hospitals in Bihar’s Khagaria district, tubectomy was performed on 24 women without anaesthesia. Administration did not take note of the plights of the victims. Though Tejashvi is the health minister, it does not appear that any kind of punitive action has been taken against the guilty persons.
At a time when the Rightist forces are on the prowl and determined to finish the democratic institutions, it is imperative that every effort ought to be made to ensure the longevity and survival of democracy and constitution but it is equally significant that peoples’ interest must not be sacrificed.
As per the official figures of the Bihar police there were 180 murders in January, 232 in February, 267 in March, 256 in April, 301 in May, 297 in June, 262 in July and 257 in August this year. The cases of kidnapping were 767 in January, 823 in February, 1003 in March, 1084 in April, 1192 in May, 1080 in June, 1086 in July and 984 in August this year. The cases of rape were 102 in January, 91 in February, 124 in March, 142 in April, 150 in May, 176 in June, 138 in July and 152 in August.
Even Nitish confessed that 60% murders take place due to land rows. It’s time for quick disposal of such cases to reduce crime. A look at the cases that are in High Courts will make it amply clear that police has been patronising the vested and feudal elements. They are not undertaking investigation of the cases in right earnest. Recently at a meeting with senior police officers Nitish directed them to accelerate the ‘speed of investigation’ in incidents of crimes and complete the investigation on time to facilitate necessary actions against the involved persons. (IPA Service)