Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s helicopter lands, the rotors sending out dust towards the people gathered at the Harnaut high school and they turning their backs to it. In the crowd are some private health workers waving black ribbons and carrying placards that proclaim they will vote for JD(U) only if their services are regularised, revealing that even the “safest” seat for the JD(U) in Nitish’s own backyard cannot be taken for granted.
Nitish, in Nalanda to campaign for JD(U) candidate and sitting MP Kaushlendra Kumar, begins his address recalling his entry into politics as Harnaut MLA in 1985. “I have come here to mark my attendance. Or else, you would complain about me not coming to you.” He praises Kaushlendra’s efforts for progress in Nalanda.
Although Nalanda’s social equations are tilted heavily in Nitish’s favour, with Kaushlendra winning last time by 1.54 lakh votes, the Bihar CM wary of any complacency creeping in. LJP-BJP candidate Satyanand Sharma is putting up a tough fight and Congress-RJD candidate Ashish Ranjan Sinha, former DGP, is trying to eat into the JD(U) vote bank.
Indeed, two first-time voters say there has been talk of Modi on Nitish’s home turf. Nitish, however, can take heart from staunch supporters like Satyanarayan Sinha, 82. “Bihar’s Vikas Purush must be supported,” he says. But Janardhan Singh, a Harnaut farmer, says: “We have to support him but he should not have split with the BJP.”
Nitish targets Narendra Modi: “No angel from outside can develop Bihar. It is you and we who are doing it together”.
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Nitish says the RJD had put the progress of Bihar on the backburner and the BJP has no mention of Bihar’s special status demand in its manifesto. “It is special status that will bring employment. Investors will be encouraged, industries will come and employ people,” Nitish says, selling the development plank that had given his party 20 of 25 seats contested last time.
Talking about a safer Bihar, he says shops are open until late evening and women go outside to work. He says his government has been working for women’s empowerment with 50 per cent reservation at panchayat levels and uniform, cycle and scholarship schemes for schoolgirls. He mentions 1.25 lakh self help groups.
He cautions against attempts of rivals to “create confusion on caste and sub-caste lines”. “Please do not fall into the trap. Cast your vote for the pride of Nalanda and Bihar’s progress.” The CM then garlands Kaushlendra but there are murmurs among some young voters that the fight is not going to be easy.