Bypoll results, a wake-up call for Nitish

Over-confidence

Perceived to be a sort of referendum, the results of the byelections held for 18 Assembly constituencies in Bihar have not only proved all political pundits wrong, it has caught the leaders of the ruling NDA unawares. Riding piggyback on the popularity wave of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, the JD(U)-BJP alliance had not lost a single byelection ever
since it stormed to power in 2005. But it suffered a severe setback when it bagged just five seats [JD(U) — 3 and BJP — 2] in the bypolls.

The top rung NDA leaders in the state are still busy dissecting what went wrong with their calculations. Was it their over-confidence that spelt the doom? Or were it the enemies within the NDA, who worked overtime for the poll debacle? Or, much to everyone’s dismay, is Nitish’s much-hyped popularity on the wane?

It could be any of the three. Or all the three factors together, which cut Nitish to size. But first thing first. Throughout the campaign, Nitish went on to claim that such is his good governance in Bihar that the ‘conscious voters’ of the state won’t allow his opponents to even open their account.

Nitish was apparently overconfident. And he had reasons to be. For, his alliance had never lost a single byelection ever since he donned the mantle of chief ministership in November 2005.

Secondly, over the years, Nitish made more enemies than friends within the party and outside. He was charged with behaving like a dictator. His other close colleagues, who left him for good, said that success had gone to his head. Estranged leaders like former Union ministers Digvijay Singh, Jagannath Mishra and Nagmani left the organisation after being sidelined by Nitish and his coterie.

Upper caste factor

Thirdly, over a period of time the upper caste electorate, who played a significant role in Nitish’s ascendance to power, gradually got disenchanted with him. After all, Nitish did not give ticket to any Brahmin candidate in the Lok Sabha elections and showed leaders like Mishra the door. The Rajputs were equally peeved over shabby treatment meted out to MP from Banka, Digvijay Singh.

The militant Bhumihars had their own axe to grind. The Bandhopadhya Committee, set up to recommend land reforms, had suggested that ownership rights should be transferred to tillers. This had enraged the landlords, most of whom belong to the Bhumihar community.

But one good sign that has emerged from the last two elections is the increasing maturity of Bihar voters. If during the Lok Sabha elections, they outrightly rejected the criminal-turned-politicians, during the Assembly bypoll, they ensured that all turncoats bit the dust.

“In a way it’s good. But it’s also a wake up call for all of us who had become a bit complacent,” said Nitish, discounting reports that good governance won’t fetch good electoral dividends when the ‘final match’ is played in October 2010.

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