In Sasaram, Nitish Tries to Be a Sher Shah to Modi’s Humayun
Although Sasaram is a BJP stronghold, Nitish Kumar’s alliance may just pull off a victory.
Sher Shah, a Bihar native, posed perhaps the greatest challenge to the Mughal empire when he defeated Humayun and established himself in Delhi. Now, as Nitish Kumar attempts to defeat a Narendra Modi-led campaign, his alliance has been channeling Sher Shah and presenting him as an icon of Bihar history in their campaign film. So can Nitish emulate the icon and beat a Modi-powered campaign in Sasaram, Sher Shah’s birth and final resting place?
Sasaram will vote on Friday, and like much of Bihar the major contenders are the BJP, whose candidate Jawahar Prasad has been a five-time MLA from the seat, and the Mahagathbandhan’s candidate Ashok Kushwaha.
Speaking to The Quint, Prasad expressed confidence that his party and the prime minister’s popularity would see him win his seat for a sixth time.
All the good work done in the last 10 years has been because of the BJP’s ministers that were in the government. Since the alliance has broken up, there has been a rise in crime, women aren’t safe and there has been no development.
— Jawahar Prasad, BJP candidate and five-time MLA from Sasaram
Nitish Kumar Not Reviled
Despite Prasad’s claims that Nitish deserves no credit for the work done in Bihar over the last decade, supporters of the BJP in Sasaram do give credit to Nitish for government schemes, particularly when it comes to girls’ education and electricity.
The BJP is still the party to beat in Sasaram, with most people expressing their support for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. However, Nitish Kumar more than the Mahagathbandhan has made inroads into this saffron bastion.
Dayanath Pandey and Kanhaiya Bhagat are teachers at the Dr Radhika Raman Public School which is managed by Vishal Chaudhry, a local BJP worker. They are also both from ‘forward’ castes, usually thought to be the BJP’s core constituency.
At first they are full of praise for the BJP, but after some probing Kanhaiya reveals that he believes Nitish Kumar is “the best Chief Minister Bihar has ever had.”
Dayanath echoes his sentiment. However, there are two blemishes on Nitish’s otherwise sterling record.
One, Nitish Kumar opened country liquor shops in the villages. While this adds to the government’s revenue, it has destroyed the social life in our village, Chhor. Daily wage labourers will spend a large amount of their meager salaries on liquor. Second, aligning with Lalu Prasad has dented Nitish’s image somewhat.
– Dayanath Pandey, Teacher
However, Kanhaiya is quick to mention Nitish’s good work.
He [Nitish Kumar] has built roads, we get 16-17 hours of electricity and the scholarships for bright students and cycles for girls has given a huge boost to education.
– Kanhaiya Bhagat, Teacher
The Muslim Vote May Turn the Tide
Sasaram has a 10-12 per cent Muslim population, and in a close election this vote could well turn the tide. Baleji Khan, a 30-year-old shopkeeper thinks that there is a strong anti-incumbency factor in this election. However, it is not against the ruling JD(U) but rather against the local BJP leadership.
Baleji blames Prasad for communalising the atmosphere in Sasaram over the last two decades. Development, particularly sanitation is also at a standstill according to him.
Off camera, he tells us that Muslims plan to vote for the RJD mostly because the see a chance to unseat Jawahar Prasad.
Will the appreciation for Nitish’s record across the board and the Muslim vote translate into a victory for the Mahagathbandhan? It seems an almost insurmountable task given PM Modi’s immense popularity and the BJP’s massive organisation on the ground. However, if they can pull it off in Sasaram the Lalu-Nitish-Congress alliance is certainly in with more than fighting chance in the rest of Bihar.
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