‘My Last Election’: What Explains Nitish Kumar’s Emotional Appeal?

While the Bihar CM said that it was his ‘last election’, PM Modi expressed the need for the Nitish govt.

Updated
Politics
4 min read
Going in for Assembly polls in October 2020, Bihar continues to be a laggard when compared to other states on almost all parameters.
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'Aaj aakhri din hai. Parso chunav hai. Aur yeh mera antim chunav hai. Anth bhala, tou sab bhala. Vote dijiyega na? (Today is the last day of campaigning. Day after tomorrow is polling day. This is my last election. If the ending is good, everything is good. You'll vote for us right?".

Incumbent Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar made this emotional appeal to voters at a rally in Purnea on Thursday, 5 November, the last day of campaigning before the final phase of polling in the Bihar Assembly elections.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi released an open letter to the people of Bihar in which he said that he "needs Nitish Kumar's government for the development of Bihar".

This article will try to answer the following questions

  • Why is Nitish Kumar’s appeal significant?
  • Who is it aimed at?
  • Can it work?
  • How is Modi’s appeal different from Nitish Kumar’s?

Why is Nitish Kumar’s Appeal Significant?

  • Now, it's not as if incumbent CMs haven't made such appeals in the past. To name a few, Captain Amarinder Singh said this in the 2017 Punjab elections, VS Achuthanandan of CPI(M) made a similar appeal in the 2011 Kerala elections.
  • However, Nitish Kumar at 69 years of age is comparatively younger. Just for comparison, Captain Amarinder was 75 during the 2017 elections and Achuthanandan was 88 at the time of the 2011 Kerala polls.

So why is Nitish Kumar making such appeals?

  • The entire election has been centred around Nitish Kumar, his performance or failures in the last 15 years.
  • RJD's chief ministerial face Tejashwi Yadav and Lok Janshakti Party's Chirag Paswan have focused their respective campaigns on attacking Nitish Kumar.
  • Their campaigns have led to the creation of the perception that Nitish Kumar is "tired" and has become a liability for the NDA.
  • Even reporters who went to the ground said that it was difficult to find someone praising Nitish Kumar.

Who Is the Appeal Meant For?

The appeal may be aimed at what are being termed Nitish Kumar’s “silent voters”. Now, who are these silent voters? This has a great deal to do with Nitish Kumar’s social engineering.

  • Despite coming from the OBC Kurmi caste and getting enthusiastic support from the community, Nitish Kumar is not quite a Kurmi leader the way Lalu Prasad is seen as a Yadav leader and Ram Vilas Paswan a leader of Dusadh Dalits.
  • In his nearly 15-year-stint as CM, Nitish Kumar built a support base of Extremely Backward Castes and Mahadalits, by giving them separate recognition within the OBC and SC category respectively.
  • According to political analyst Sajjan Kumar, Nitish Kumar followed the reservation formula of former CM Karpoori Thakur. Thakur, himself an OBC from the numerically small Nai (barber) caste, stood for sub-categorisation within the OBC framework so that the benefits aren't grabbed by the numerically stronger and more assertive Yadav caste.
  • The other model was laid down by the BP Mandal commission and championed by Lalu Prasad - which provided for no subdivision within the OBCs.
  • Nitish, therefore, emerged as a leader of all the "non-dominant" castes within the OBCs and SCs. These were caste groups who not only felt threatened by Upper Castes but also relatively more dominant castes within OBCs and SCs.
  • Nitish Kumar also tried to do the same in the case of Pasmanda Muslims, many of whom felt that they didn't get adequate representation due to the alleged domination of Upper Caste Muslims in the RJD. However, his return to the NDA fold in 2017 and the sidelining of Pasmanda leaders more or less ended this outreach.
  • However, Nitish Kumar has tried to revive this during the campaign for the third phase of polling by repeatedly stressing on communal harmony and assuring that no one will be harmed due to the CAA.
  • The other section of 'silent voters' that Nitish Kumar's appeal appears to be aimed at are women. A number of Kumar's schemes and his prohibition measure are aimed at women. He has consistently had an advantage among women voters, though this time it appeared to be slipping due to the faulty implementation of prohibition and rising prices.
  • This appeal, therefore, is Nitish's way of subtly telling these sections that a future Bihar polity that’s centred around Upper Caste-dominated BJP and Yadav-dominated RJD may be harmful for them and that their best interests lie with him.

Will This Work?

Most observers say that this may be a little too late for such appeals and that the damage to Kumar has already been done.

If at all, older voters from EBCs and Mahadalits would be more likely than others to respond positively. But even in this section, the decision may already have been made, be it in favour or against Nitish.

To the Opposition, his appeal has given the opportunity to allege that the incumbent CM is desperate to hold on to his chair.

Tejashwi Yadav said in his reply, “This confirms what we have been saying throughout the campaign that Nitish Kumar is tired. By saying that this is his last election, he has formally accepted defeat.”

How PM Modi’s Appeal is Different

  • PM Modi's appeal is a little different. His appeal seems to be aimed at BJP voters in seats JD(U) is contesting who may be considering voting for the LJP or the Congress or even staying away instead of voting for the JD(U).
  • Reports from the first two phases do indicate that LJP candidates have managed to woo a section of BJP voters in JD(U) seats.
  • PM Modi had the chance to openly chastise LJP and Chirag Paswan during his rallies in Bihar but he chose not to do so. Therefore a lot of damage has already been done and the PM’s appeal may have come a little too late.
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