Bihar Chief Minister and Janata Dal-United chief Nitish Kumar has never missed an opportunity to flaunt his independence within the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Before 2015 and after 2017, when he tied up with the BJP, ‘Sushasan Babu’ used every chance to call the shots and refused his ally any elbow room. But in this year’s Assembly election, he has been critically dependent on the BJP, its ideological parent the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and the strategies and main campaigners of the Sangh Parivar. That’s a big change from the past when Nitish had a now warm, now cold relationship with the Sangh Parivar. In 2016, he had called for a “Sangh-mukt Bharat”, provoking sharp responses from the saffron outfits, including the BJP. Nitish’s attacks on the RSS were toned down when he returned to the NDA after severing ties with the Mahagathbandhan and key ally, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD). In January 2019, he had said: “Agree or not with the viewpoint of the RSS, you have to acknowledge that their commitment to their cause is highly commendable.” Just as well, because it’s that commitment of the RSS and the BJP that has kept the JD(U) in good stead in this election. JD(U) leaders have sought the presence of leaders like Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, following sizeable crowds at his rallies. So keen have BJP leaders been on clinching a victory for their alliance in Bihar that they have requested RSS seniors to allow the presence of the JD(U)’s top leaders at their strategy meetings. The prant pracharak (head of the RSS state unit) was staunchly against such a move. But he was overruled and permission was extracted from senior Sangh leaders to allow the JD(U) presence at the meetings. Thereafter, even Sangh leaders were in agreement with the JD(U) and Nitish Kumar that the imperative of ensuring a significant victory in Bihar needed a well-synchronised poll strategy.
There are party activists who work hard the year round from the ground up. Then there are the self-styled political strategists of today who are hired by parties to insta-graft a connect with the people, without any significant work. It seems the days of leaders focused on grassroots activity are numbered. Following the success of Prashant Kishor, who was in charge of the election wares in Modi’s 2014 campaign, his clones have popped up to meet the demands of the market among opposition leaders. These Kishor copies are now managing key roles in various parties. Some of them are leaders who have morphed into poll strategists. Most of them have left-of-centre affiliations, but that had not proved a hurdle to their finding cosy
nesting places in parties of varied ideology, ranging from the Congress to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), from the DMK to the YSR Congress or the RJD. Their chief armour happens to be the verses of Dinkar and Faiz. They also have a penchant for obscurantist ideas long buried or out of currency. Still, they have had some degree of success. Little wonder these poll-weather friends of the opposition have managed to stick. So you have a Gopal Rai in the AAP, Manoj Jha in the RJD, and Sandeep Singh, who once led a far-left outfit at Jawaharlal Nehru University. Singh is advising Priyanka Gandhi on her party’s line in Uttar Pradesh. It’s a different matter whether these political strategists or their ideas are connecting with the masses.
Ajit Pawar, Maharashtra’s Deputy Chief Minister and nephew of Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) supremo Sharad Pawar, inaugurated the first dedicated Covid-19 hospital at Pimpri-Chinchwad on his home turf of Pune in August, along with former Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis. That couldn’t have warmed the current Chief Minister towards him. In early September, the younger Pawar, Pune’s ‘guardian minister’, held a high-level meet of experts and bureaucrats on Covid-19 to ensure that hospitals had an ensured supply of oxygen cylinders and hazmat suits. The district has since been consistently in the news for the wrong reasons, with the worst record in the battle against the pandemic. This has led many to believe that Pune has fallen victim to a bitter turf war between the ruling Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress alliance and Pawar. Ajit’s son hasn’t exactly helped smooth the relationship between Uddhav Thackeray and his father either, having made some adverse statements against the state police’s role in investigating the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput. Thackeray has made only one perfunctory visit to Pune city during the pandemic. In July, Siddharth Shirole, the BJP MLA from Shivajinagar constituency in Pune, had warned the Centre and the Prime Minister about the coronavirus crisis in Pune. Attacking the Maha Vikas Aghadi government, Shirole had said that the Thackeray regime had neglected Pune on Covid and had made it the worst affected district in the state, hinting at a political axe-grinding since Ajit Pawar—who had earlier decamped to the Fadnavis tent in the battle to capture the chief minister’s office—was the guardian minister. That bitterness appears to have persisted, with the state government reportedly micro-managing the police to target anyone speaking out against it, whether from Bollywood or the media, with some media outlets featured as wilful patsies. The Thackeray government has actively enlisted members of both Bollywood and the media to launch a powerful attack on its detractors from among their own. Caught between the two sides, it’s the people of Pune who have become the worst victims.
The last-minute defection of Kapoor Narwal, the BJP’s Jat face in Haryana’s Baroda Assembly constituency which had a bypoll on November 3rd, should have given a big boost to the Congress leadership’s efforts to clinch the seat. That wasn’t to be so, though, since party leaders in Haryana have turned snatching defeat from the jaws of victory into a fine art. The state Congress chief Kumari Selja is busy fighting former Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda and his son Deepender more than the BJP. It’s a case of lessons not learnt from past mistakes. Narwal was being considered for a Congress ticket in a seat dominated to the extent of more than 50 per cent by Jat voters. Until Selja put her foot down and Narwal was forced to withdraw. Selja’s candidates are credited with the Congress’ losses in several seats, leading to its defeat in the state elections. In the current instance, a strong Congress candidate and Hooda choice has been forced out in favour of Selja’s candidate once more. It could again end up as a big loss for the party. The Congress had managed to win the seat even during the 2014 Assembly polls that spelt a debacle for it. For the BJP and Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, the seat is a prestige battle and he has ensured that several ministers campaign in Baroda for party candidate Yogeshwar Dutt, a Brahmin. Winning the seat back would mean a significant triumph in Hooda’s bastion. Significantly, Baroda has voted Congress in the last three Assembly elections, something that would make a victory that much sweeter for the ruling party. A BJP win would also ensure that Khattar is less reliant on the Jannayak Janta Party to run his government.