It is interesting to note Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s changing equation with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Back in the 2010 Assembly election in Bihar and the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Nitish reportedly did not allow Modi to campaign in the state despite being in an alliance with the BJP. Even recently, his party officially opposed the move to revoke Article 370. Nitish had the gumption to do what he did. He had changed what was considered the accepted wisdom in Bihar’s political circles—that ‘development’ did not win votes.
But 2020 is a changed environment. Nitish faces a strong anti-incumbency wave. There are complaints that no development has taken place or new jobs created in the state. He has had no choice but to fall back on Modi. Recently, he stood quietly beside Modi at a joint rally, as the Prime Minister brought up Article 370. In this moment of crisis, Nitish Kumar really has no other option.
The income tax department has become very active conducting raids in Bihar during the current election season. According to the grapevine, Nitish Kumar and his close associates are believed to be particularly upset with one such raid, conducted against a contractor-cum-businessman. He is believed to have taken up most of the state government’s Nal Jal Yojna projects. JD(U) leaders believe this is being done deliberately by New Delhi to apply pressure on the Nitish government.
Bihar’s Battle Rap
There has been an interesting back and forth through music during Bihar’s election campaigns. After the song Bambai Mein Ka Ba? (What is there in Mumbai?)— from filmmaker Anubhav Sinha and Manoj Bajpayee, which talks about the life of migrant labourers and what makes them leave their families behind to work in larger cities—seemed to acquire a new life as a song questioning Nitish Kumar’s performance as Bihar’s Chief Minister, the JD (U) and the BJP have come up with their own version, Bihar Mein Ee Ba (This is what Bihar has), listing out what the current dispensation has managed. There’s also another popular Bhojpuri song doing the rounds: Neha Singh Rathore’s Bihar se berojgar bolatani (unemployment calling from Bihar).
An Unusual Letter
President Ramnath Kovind received a letter recently, written by Afshan Ansari, the wife of the notorious don and former BSP leader Mukhtar Ansari. According to her, there is a strong apprehension in the family that the don was going to be killed. He is currently lodged in a Lucknow jail. According to the grapevine, the President has referred the letter to the Centre, and it will probably be forwarded to the UP government soon. Intelligence units are said to be looking into the matter.
Game of Thrones
Madhya Pradesh’s by-elections are crucial for quite a few people. There is Jyotiraditya Scindia who rebelled against the Congress, and the MLAs who followed him into the BJP. Then there is Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan who would need at least nine wins from the 28 seats up for grabs for the stability of his government. If the MLAs who defected can win, it will lead to a ripple effect. Several Congress leaders in Haryana, Maharashtra and Jharkhand are watching the by-elections closely before they decide whether to switch allegiances or not.
Rajya Sabha Dreams
The future of a single Rajya Sabha seat, one that was held by Loktantrik Janata Dal leader Sharad Yadav until recently, is connected closely to which way the election results go in Bihar. Yadav, who was disqualified from holding this seat after the JD(U) cut ties with him, went to court to challenge this ruling. But with his formal tenure now almost over, an intense lobbying has started for this seat. The BJP might want to give the seat to a party member. But it is possible that Lok Janshakti Party chief Chirag Paswan could be offered it too. But what will Nitish Kumar have to say about such a move if he gains a sizeable number of state Assembly seats on his own?
Despite its strength in Lok Sabha, the BJP has had limited control in Rajya Sabha. This has meant the party has had challenges in passing key legislation in the Upper House in the past. The party scripted a major success recently when it won nine of the 11 Rajya Sabha seats. With this win, the BJP now has 92 seats. It is possible that this could rise to 93 when by-elections for the seat held by Ashok Gasti, who died recently, take place.
Eye on America
Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora may have his hands full with the Bihar elections, but he has kept an eye on the goings-on in the US. He’s been devouring books and articles, especially about the demand for electoral reforms in the US. One book in particular is Why Do We Still Have the Electoral College? It was written recently by the historian Alexander Keyssar and looks at the lack of reforms in the US election process in the last 20 years. In the US, the Election Commission performs a limited role. They do not involve themselves in the counting of votes—that is the task of the US State Department’s election wing—but only look after campaign finance laws. Given this situation, coupled with Donald Trump’s volatile nature and his recent hints that he may not concede the election even if he were to lose, and the growing possibility of violence and anarchy on the streets, Arora thinks India is in a far better situation when it comes to elections.
The Congress Conundrum
There is confusion yet again at 24 Akbar Road. Madhusudan Mistry, the chairman of the Central Election Authority of the Congress, has sent out letters to the party’s state units inviting nominations for candidates to the post of Congress president. According to the grapevine, no one has filled in any such application form. That’s because everybody expects Rahul Gandhi to take the post. No one wants to be seen as an aspirant. But what if Rahul sticks to his decision and refuses the post? Would Sonia Gandhi, who had accepted the post as a stopgap arrangement, be forced to continue?