Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has been at the helm for 15 years. The Opposition says there is anti-incumbency. Do you see it?
I do not think so. Nitish Kumar has changed the narrative of Bihar politics… He raised expectations. Fifteen years is a long time. Some people may think that more work could have been done but what we are seeing on the field is different. If they think more should be done, they also believe that only Kumar can do it.
The JD(U) leaders, including the CM, often compare Bihar with what it was during (RJD chief) Lalu Prasad’s regime (1990-2005). Isn’t this an admission that the last five years haven’t been good enough?
We say this because this was not a field where you could come and start batting. This was a hole. What had they (then RJD government) left in the state? Rampant corruption, a failed bureaucracy. The Central Public Works Department, which makes buildings in Delhi, used to come here and build roads. No contractor would come, no businessman was left. Every day there was kidnapping. You have to see from where Kumar started. Biharis used to be a laughing stock… In a caste-based society like the one in Bihar, if he did not have commitment, we would not be able to build the Bihari pride.
But hasn’t Kumar created sub-castes and a loyal vote base for himself?
He is the first CM in the country to give 50% reservation to women in panchayats. Three elections have happened. Talk to the women mukhiyas and the zila parishads. There is now a women force in politics. Nobody thought what a woman in Bihar thinks about politics.
In the early days of the pandemic, Kumar had said that migrants should not return to Bihar. Was there anger against the government’s stand?
He never said, ‘Don’t come back.’ He only said that the Centre has made guidelines that no movement should take place… When the pandemic hit, people thought Bihar would be worst affected. They thought the migrants would return and spread the virus in their villages… That narrative is not spoken of anymore. The recovery rate in Bihar is 94%. Testing is among the highest. The people broke the chain by staying in quarantine centres.
But what about the economic distress?
Abhijit Banerjee (Nobel laureate for economics) said if direct cash was transferred to people, and if they spent that money, the economy will start moving. Kumar transferred
Rs 2,000 crore into people’s bank accounts in different forms. Old age pension of three months was paid in advance, Rs 1,000 was given to each migrant and money was allotted for scholarships for girls. I am not saying that the problem was solved. But he was aware that only when he gives the money, the economy will start moving… Yes, there is economic distress but the entire country is facing it.
So, has the anger subsided?
Yes, the anger has subsided. We never had conducted skill mapping before. So, we now have data of all the people who stayed in quarantine centres. In places like Bettiah (Champaran), Supaul, Purnea, Darbhanga, people are making masks with Mithila paintings and selling them on Amazon and Flipkart….
A lot of migrants, who were facing economic difficulties, have now returned from where they came. If their earnings fell, will they still vote for the government?
Economic distress is a pan-India problem. I will not say that it does not have an impact. But largely, the handling of Covid-19 in Bihar was done well. About 22 lakh migrants were given Rs 1,000 each. People trust that when the CM talks about skilling, it will happen.
With the BJP seen as propping up the LJP in some quarters to push the JD(U) down, are party cadres finding it difficult to work together on the ground?
Barring a few years, the BJP-JD(U) alliance has been there since 1996. The cadre, leaders and workers know each other very well. Whether it is the Prime Minister, or Amit Shah (Union Home Minister), or the BJP party president (J P Nadda), they have all said that Nitish Kumar will lead the election campaign. Seat distribution is already completed and the VIP (Vikassheel Insaan Party) and HAM (Hindustani Awam Morcha) are our allies. The people of Bihar will give a decisive mandate… The Opposition is not serious.
What about (RJD leader) Tejashwi Yadav?
He was not there during the floods or when there was an illness (the acute encephalitis syndrome outbreak in 2019) in Muzaffarpur. When the state faces major issues, he is never there. That one of the brothers (Tej Pratap Yadav, Lalu Prasad’s elder son) has had to change constituency shows that even their core vote is shifting.
Is the LJP’s action bothering the JD(U)? Which way are the Paswan votes going?
I don’t want to talk about caste. But I think people in Bihar vote one way. Even in 2010 (Assembly polls), we (the JD-U and BJP) fought the election together and won 206 seats out of 243. That result is a matter of record.
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