Has JD(U)'s poll defeat dashed Nitish Kumar's prime ministerial hopes?

Patna: This was the first test of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's “acceptability” outside his home state of Bihar, since he took over as the new JD(U) president last month. But got a strong rebuff. With JD(U)’s humiliating poll defeat, Nitish’s prime ministerial ambition too stands smashed now.

Of the four states that went to polls recently, the JD(U) had fielded its candidates in three states — Kerala, Assam and West Bengal — hoping to cash in on the “clean image” of Nitish, who only recently had imposed total liquor ban in Bihar. But it drew a blank. What was further humiliating was that on most of the seats, the party forfeited its security deposit. The biggest setback came from Kerala where it lost all the seven seats, including two sitting seats, despite the fact that Nitish himself gone there to campaign for his party candidates. This was the first time that the JD(U) was trying its luck in many states, soon after Nitish became the chief.

The defeat can’t be easily ignored given the fact that the JD(U) had done a lot to homework, assessed the ground realities and entered into an alliance with the regional parties before testing the waters in the elections. While it allied with UDF in Kerala, in Assam, it contested the elections with the perfume baron Badruddin Ajmal’s All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF). In West Bengal, it had an alliance with the Congress-Left, yet it failed to leave its mark anywhere.

Nitish Kumar. File photo. Reuters

Nitish Kumar. File photo. Reuters

“Nitish Kumar has now become totally irrelevant in national politics as indicated the assembly poll results of four states, where his party failed to even open its account. His prime minister dream stands dashed now,” commented state BJP president Mangal Pandey.

He is not totally wrong in his observations. Ever since he was elected as the new JD(U) chief last month, the party leadership had been constantly trying to project Nitish as the prime minister in the country. While he himself clarified he was not a “fool” to nurse such ambitions, his partymen went on exhorting the masses to lend their support to make Nitish the prime minister at a rally held in Varanasi, the home LS constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, earlier this month. And Nitish never objected to such remarks by his colleague at party rallies as well.

The prime ministerial ambition in him suddenly got fired soon after he got a huge response from women, after he imposed total probation in Bihar last month. The idea, as such, was to implement total prohibition in phases — banning the consumption of country-made liquor and then prohibiting foreign liquor in the next phase. But the banning of only country-made liquor elicited such a huge response that he imposed total prohibition at once — perhaps finding in it a big bank of women voters. All along, he went on telling the masses that it was “he” who imposed total prohibition, without giving any credit to his coalition partners.

Observers say Nitish found in it the “merit” to create a huge vote bank of women voters by launching his nationwide campaign against liquor. Nitish soon took over as the new JD(U) chief — pushing out Sharad Yadav even though his three months tenure was still left — as the “impatient” Bihar chief minister wanted to encash the liquor ban without any further delay.

Subsequently, he planned to launch a nationwide campaign against liquor to win the sympathy of women. It was in the light of this strategy that Nitish visited cities such as Dhanbad in Jharkhand, and Varanasi and Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh, to campaign against liquor with his eyes on national politics.

At the same time, he coined 'Sangh-free India' hoping to get a huge chunk of Muslim votes by way of opposing the RSS. Now, sure that he was getting the women and Muslim vote, that would make for a huge, huge vote bank and would hopefully support the JD(U), Nitish embarked on his next mission to form a front of secular forces without taking into confidence his coalition partners, such as Lalu Prasad’s RJD and the Congress. He began his campaign from UP. The support of his campaign from leaders such as NCP chief Sharad Pawar and the Left, only boosted his confidence.

Now it was the time to 'test' his idea. So he finally fielded his candidates in assembly elections in Kerala, Assam and West Bengal. How he was eager to see its results that Nitish not only rushed to Kerala setting aside the issue of the prevailing law and order situation in his own state to campaign for his candidates, but also focused his speech on liquor ban, proclaiming how prohibition had brought happiness in the life of the common man in Bihar. But, the poll results were a huge shocker for him. It has indicated that Nitish has no acceptability outside Bihar, which means a severe blow to his prime minister dream. Now he needs to rework his strategy.

Updated Date: May 20, 2016 16:37 PM

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