The two houses are barely 500 metres apart, but on Monday, the mood outside could not have been more different.
Outside 1 Anney Marg, the official residence of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, there was a pall of silence. Security personnel discouraged anyone from lingering around, and the only vehicles parked in the compound seemed to be those of the police.
The gates at 10, Circular Road, home to two former Chief Ministers — Lalu Prasad Yadav and Rabri Devi — and potential Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav, were shut too. Nobody was allowed inside, and yet it didn’t matter. Through the day, there were at least a hundred people standing outside, with garlands, sweets and Tejashwi’s photographs.
Tejashwi didn’t emerge outside, but they waited nonetheless.
“Pradesh ke agle mukhyamantri ka janamdin manaane aaye hai. Kal unko sabse accha gift milega (We’ve come to celebrate the birthday of the state’s next chief minister. He will get the best gift tomorrow),” said Munna Yadav, an RJD worker from Patna.
The long electoral battle for the Bihar Assembly draws to a close on Tuesday, when the results for the 243 Assembly seats will be announced. The election has seen Nitish fighting for a fourth term, facing seeming anti-incumbency and economic distress, in an alliance with the BJP that seemed to develop deep faultlines, particularly with the LJP’s decision to contest separately, away from the NDA.
Much of the conversation around the RJD-led Grand Alliance, with the Congress and the Left as partners, has been on its ability to tap into this anti-incumbency, with Tejashwi cross-crossing the state at a breathless rate, to shore up votes beyond the traditional Muslim-Yadav bastions.
The day before the election results, the RJD-led alliance seemed confident, boosted by the exit polls which gave it a clear edge.
On Sunday, the RJD leadership had sent out a pointed message to the cadres, telling them to accept any result on counting day with humility and grace, and to refrain from inappropriate celebrations, including celebratory gunfire. The cadres were also asked to stay away from Tejashwi’s home on his 31st birthday, as he wished to celebrate it in a simple manner.
Munna Yadav said he was following both the guidelines. “Look at everyone here. We are all from Patna and nearby. We will be at our stations tomorrow to ensure nothing goes wrong. I only have some flowers to give him… Hopefully, he will come out. Even if he doesn’t, there is no place I’d rather be,” he said.
Till late evening, while the chief ministerial aspirant hadn’t stepped out, his brother, Tej Pratap Yadav, did, with a simple message: the RJD was confident, and his brother was on course to be the youngest chief minister.
In another part of Patna, there was another set of contrasts. Veerchand Patel Path is home to the party offices of the three biggest players in this election — the RJD, JD(U) and BJP.
Outside the RJD office, the mood was similar to that outside Tejashwi’s residence. As television cameras turned on, supporters rushed to them, feeding each other sweets, a bit prematurely. But young Maqsoor Khan was confident. “This is not premature at all. The only debate is about the scale of victory. Dedh sau paar, ya ek sau picchatar paar (past 150, or past 175),” he said.
About 200 metres ahead, at the BJP’s office, the conversation outside was decidedly more somber, but hope wasn’t lost yet. They spoke of how exit polls have been wrong before, pointing to 2015. “I don’t believe these exit polls. The people I met were all afraid of jungle raj, and voted for us. They may not have told the media because of how aggressive the Yadav community was this time, but I believe there was a silent vote for the NDA,” said Sanket Singh, a BJP worker from Patna.
But there was also talk, in quiet whispers, of possible electoral miscalculations, particularly regarding the LJP and the decision to stick with Nitish. “I still think we will win, but I am sure that if we had fought with the LJP and not Nitish Kumar, we would have won comfortably. Naaraazagi toh thi unke khilaaf (there was resentment against him),” said a party worker.
Across the road, the office of the JD(U) was even emptier, with just a handful of people walking around. But here too, much of the hope rested on the “silent voter”. “For years, no leader has done for the EBC and the women what Nitishji has done. They will not abandon him. Yes, it is a tough fight, but the only government that will be formed is of Nitish,” said Mukesh Kumar, from Patna Sahib, who had come to “ensure that he stands with the JD(U) even in difficult times.”
There was another conversation outside the JD(U) office, about Nitish’s future in case their fears come true. As they talked about his options, of how he would have to use his political nous to stay relevant in case of a loss, a resurgent RJD and a BJP that wants its own space, a board loomed over them. “Nitish sabke hain,” it said.
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