PATNA: On the last day of campaigning for the third phase of the Bihar assembly election on November 7, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has stunned the state’s voters by saying that it will be his last election.
Nitish, who is the JDU-NDA’s chief ministerial candidate, made these remarks while addressing a rally at Dhamdaha in Purnea district of Bihar on Thursday (November 5).
“Today is the last day of the campaign. Polling will take place the day after tomorrow. This is my last election (ye mera antim chunav hai). All is well that ends well (ant bhala to sab bhala),” Kumar had said while concealing his emotions behind his smiling face.
The crowds were stunned into silence for a few seconds, after which they erupted in applause for the 69- year-old leader who has ruled the state for nearly 15 years.
This is for the first time that the man who is known for his social engineering and his clan image and someone who has ruled the state for close to a decade and a half, barring a few months when he made Jitan Ram Manjhi the chief minister to keep the seat warm for him, has apparently talked about quitting electoral politics.
However, Nitish Kumar’s political detractors have called his “last election” ploy a “plea for mercy” due to the JDU-BJP government’s non-performance.
Kumar’s political adversaries have reacted with an unbridled glee. “Nitish Kumar has realised that he has become tired…That he cannot handle Bihar. Today, he has understood the ground reality and decided to quit,” RJD leader and the chief ministerial candidate of the opposition Grand Alliance Tejashwi Yadav said.
Chirag Paswan, the LJP chief, who led his party out of the NDA in Bihar just before the election, contended Kumar’s comments at his rally on the last day of canvassing would have demoralised JD(U) candidates even further.
“I don’t know who advised him to make this statement at his last rally. When the leader runs away from the battleground, the contestants will definitely be demoralised,” the young LJP leader said.
Some in the JDU said what Kumar meant was that it was his last public meeting of the election and not the last election of his political career. They, however, chose to be anonymous.
Congress too grabbed the opportunity to slam Nitish and one of its MLCs Premchandra Mishra said the Bihar CM’s announcement was an acceptance of “impending defeat”. “Nitish Kumar is tired and retired. A wave of change sweeps Bihar,” Randeep Surjewala said while reacting to the development.
There is no doubt that a lot is at stake for Nitish Kumar and the JDU-BJP alliance in Bihar, especially in view of opinion polls suggesting Tejashwi Yadav fast closing in the gap between him and Nitish ahead of the third phase polling o November 7.
Kumar has been the chief minister since November 2005, barring the nine months when his confidant Jitan Ram Manjhi had occupied the office as a stop-gap arrangement after he stepped down in May 2014, owning moral responsibility for the JD(U)’s drubbing in the Lok Sabha polls.
Kumar began his political journey way back in 1977. It took him eight years to win his first election from Harnaut in 1985 after failing twice (in 1977 and then again in 1980). Since then, Kumar has not looked back.
A product of the JP Movement of 1974-75, Kumar, who is seeking a fourth consecutive term as chief minister, has been one of the two major poles of Bihar politics — the other being RJD supremo Lalu Prasad — since the Mandal revolution in the 1990s.
Kumar has come a long way from the political years he spent in the shadow of, first, Lalu, and then George Fernandes in the Samata Party, which the two of them had founded in 1994. In 2000, as part of the NDA, Nitish became the chief minister. The BJP has been supporting him since 2005, barring four years (June 2013 to July 2017).
A fourth-term victory in the polls will enable Kumar to surpass the record of Bihar’s first chief minister Shrikrishna Singh, who was at the helm for little under 15 years.
On the other hand, a defeat for him holds out the spectre of political oblivion since the JD(U), unlike the BJP and RJD, does not have a formidable organisational machinery or loyal caste support base.
It is just a matter of a few days until it becomes clear if the huge gamble played by Nitish Kumar actually paid off well for the NDA alliance or Bihr will vote for a change of guard this time.