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The Well-calibrated Political Engineering of Nitish Kumar and Why He’s Banking on it Ahead of 2020 Bihar Polls

File photo of Bihar CM Nitish Kumar. (PTI)

File photo of Bihar CM Nitish Kumar. (PTI)

Nitish Kumar has been consciously and increasingly using symbolisms to bring about social upheaval through mainstreaming of people left outside the direct ken of politics.

Patna: With about a year left for the 2020 Assembly elections, Bihar chief minister and Janata Dal (United) president Nitish Kumar has carefully begun the pre-poll exercise by launching and inaugurating government schemes in different parts of Bihar.

Though the yatra schedule has not been finalised and given any name as yet, the JD(U) leaders claimed that the emphasis of his visits this time will be on ‘Jal-Jivan-Hariyali’ besides evaluating other schemes. Nitish has been giving names to such yatras as ‘Vikas Yatra’, ‘Sampark Yatra, ‘Nyay Yatra’ etc. in the past.

This is typical of the JD(U) chief, who does it in a calculated manner and the timing is appropriate. He embarks upon yatras to different corners of the state in the penultimate year of his office term, launching and inaugurating developments schemes and sending across the message that he is a development-oriented politician.

Launching of such schemes, running into several hundred crore of rupees, not only serves as public contact platforms but also provides an opportunity for him to study the pulse of the people on overall governance and development yardstick. It provides a chance to gauge the mood of the people towards him and their likely electoral preferences in the elections.

The schedule of his visits are well-planned in advance and various schemes of the areas concerned are clubbed together to fatten the total amount to make it substantial much to the satisfaction of the people.

As Bihar polls are due in October-November in 2020, the Bihar chief minister launched from Patna around 35,000 schemes worth over Rs 1,600 crore as part of the cumulative ‘Jal, Jivan, Hariyali’ campaign that seeks to boost green cover and water table in Bihar.

The chief minister has already visited West Champaran, Kishanganj, Darbhanga and Madhubani districts in the past fortnight, and launched and inaugurated schemes worth several hundred crores of rupees. However, he had to cut his journey for a day after the Supreme Court gave its verdict on the sensitive Ayodhya issue on November 9.

Since Nitish would be the face of the poll campaign and lead the NDA again in Bihar, his yatras will continue before he gets into the actual poll mode in the beginning of next year. He has plans to visit every district of the state at least once before the 2020 assembly elections.

Accompanied by senior government officers, he has been taking stock of the various development projects by meeting beneficiaries during the statewide campaigns. His focus this time is ‘Jal-Jivan-Hariyali’ besides his pet Saath Nischay scheme, which incorporates piped drinking water supply to each home.

The chief minister has ordered that the programme of providing drinking water to all households be completed by December. The impact of the scheme was so profound that the Narendra Modi 2.0 government has decided to replicate it at the national level.

The completion of safe drinking water scheme in all homes is the first step towards starting the election campaign. It is a flagship project and the chief minister has pinned hopes on it and is expecting substantial electoral returns in 2020 polls. He has also told senior officers to complete all government schemes by March 2020.

Frequent use of esoteric and religious symbols, myths and rituals have been political tools for leaders of different political parties, but Nitish has a penchant for coining phrases and sensitively contriving new socio-political paradigms through use of common parlance and thereby creating new benchmarks. The term ‘Jal-Jivan-Hariyali’ is such that connects common people, who have been facing challenges of the extreme weather conditions.

A professional engineer, Nitish has been consciously and increasingly using symbolisms to bring about social upheaval through mainstreaming of people left outside the direct ken of politics. This he did by involving common people in celebrating their success through his Vishwas and Vikas Yatras during his first stint in power.

Nitish has claimed publicly that the major schemes he launched like Right to Service Act, ‘bicycle to girls’ scheme, school uniform scheme, complete prohibition and Saat Nischay schemes were a result of the feedback he got from people during such yatras.

The Bihar chief minister seems to have understood that use of symbolism and psychological sharing of power by ascription could be vital for shaping the electoral preferences of the voters. Therefore, his symbolisms are geared to evoke sentiments that result in electoral gains.

Slogans have played a crucial role in Nitish’s poll campaigns. The JD (U) has come up with the new slogan this time – ‘Kyon karein vichar, theeke to hai Nitish Kumar’ (Why think of political alternatives when Nitish Kumar is performing well).

Earlier, the JD (U) leader had used slogans such as ‘Bihar mein bahar hai, Nitish Kumar hai’ (There is bloom in Bihar. It is only Nitish Kumar) and ‘Sachcha hai, achha hai; chalo Nitish ke saath chalo’ (He is honest and good, let us go with Nitish).

The JD(U) leader has already gone into poll mode and the tour has been planned as a political meeting across the districts to galvanise the party at the grassroots level and prepare the workers to meet electoral challenges.

The JD(U) had won 71 seats out of 243 in the 2015 assembly elections and the party has asked the legislators to ensure that the benefits of development and welfare schemes reach people of their respective constituencies.

(The author is a senior journalist. Views expressed are personal.)

first published:November 24, 2019, 14:39 IST