Is Tejaswi turning the tables on Nitish?

To understand which way the wind in Bihar elections is blowing, don’t believe the screaming anchors of big news channels. Turn to tiny “start-ups” or the citizen journalists who take their mobile cameras to the nook and cranny often ignored by the OB Vans-enabled channels.

The other day I caught such a one-man team of a news channel reporting from a rural landscape in Bihar.

The young “newsman” catches a dhoti-kurta clad old man squinting through his thick glasses. “Baba, apne Vikas ko dekha hai? Aapke yahan Vikas aaya hai (Baba, have you seen Vikas or development? Has development come to you?),” the reporter asked. “Hum gaon mein nahin the. Aaj hi aaey hain (I was not in my village. I have returned only today),” the old man replied. Evidently, the old man mistook Vikas for a person in the village as he couldn’t relate it with development, the agenda on which Narendra Modi came to power in 2014 and used it to greater advantage in 2019 too.

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Such disconnect with “Vikas” is an ammunition in Lalu Yadav’s young scion Tejaswi’s arm which he is aiming at Chacha (uncle) Nitish Kumar, the Bihar CM, with unprecedented ferocity. Drawing huge crowds, Tejswi is repeating a few lines in rally after rally: “November 9 ko Laluji ki rihaee hai (Laluji is being released on November 9.” The crowd cheers.  Second moment, he says November 9 is also his birthday. More cheers. Then, like a seasoned speaker, Tejaswi delivers the bombshell. “Aur November 10 ko Nitishji ki vidaee hai (And on November Nitishji’s departure is fixed).” This time the huge crowd roars into rapturous applause.
Ideally, a school dropout and a cricketer who, as Gaya-based senior journalist Abdul Qadir observed, remained confined to taking water trollies to the field as 12th man in important matches, Tejaswi should not have been even a match for, far from being a threat, to a veteran politician like Nitish.

A product of legendary Jaya Prakash Narayan’s anti-emergency movement and an engineer by training, Nitish had earned the reputation for his sushashan (good governance) in the first term of his 15 year’s rule as Bihar CM. He had dislodged Lalu-Rabri from the gaddi (throne) by painting his once comrade in arms and fellow traveller on the “socialist” path, Lalu Yadav, as chief architect of the “Jungle Raj” in beleaguered Bihar. Tired of Lalu’s rustic one liners and slogans of “social justice”, Biharis reposed faith in Nitish who admittedly began with an unblemished image. People thought he would deliver the state from the corrupt rule that Lalu ran with his “kitchen cabinet”. Lalu was so focused to serve his family that when the time came to step down as Bihar’s CM as his arrest became inevitable in the fodder scam case, Lalu couldn’t find a better replacement than his completely apolitical wife Rabri Devi. The same Rabri who had never stepped out of her kitchen and willy-nilly accepted the crown gifted by pati-parmeshwar. A wily politician that he is, Lalu turned this sad but dramatic episode in India’s political history in his favour calling it “mahila sashaktikaran (women empowerment).” Between himself and Rabri, the couple ruled Bihar for 15 years. And some of us admitted they “ruined” the state.

To Nitish’s discomfiture, Lalu’s “un-educated” son Tejaswi is giving Nitish a run for his money as far as drawing crowds and garnering eyeballs is concerned. Nowhere yet near his father when it comes to evoking rural imagery, metaphors and lacing his speeches with Bhojpuri similes and sayings is concerned, Tejaswi is fast connecting with the masses. When he tells the voters that Nitish remained largely confined to his official residence in Patna even as lakhs of Bihari migrants suffered on highways in hot summer during the lockdown, they know he is telling the truth. When he describes the utter failure of the government in giving relief and rehabilitation to the citizens who were devastated by the flood waters a couple of months ago, they only recall their misery and curse the administration. Tejaswi is using all these “failures” on Nitish part to add to the anti-Nitish hawa (wind).

Unlike Lalu who milked MY (Muslim+Yadav) support, Tejaswi doesn’t stop at using the “tried and tested” formula that his father employed. At the Navada rally where he shared stage with Rahul Gandhi, Tejaswi appealed to all the castes. Aware that he cannot bank on the support of just Muslims and Yadavs in the caste-entrenched Bihar, the youthful politician is using a language that is inclusive and caste neutral. He replies to the jibes in dignified manner.

In contrast, Nitish loses his cool easily and becomes impatient and angry when pooh-pooed. At a rally when a section of the crowd raised slogans against him, Nitish showed his frustration when he pulled up the sloganeering section by saying, “Vote nahin dena hai to mat do.” So who is going to lose if people don’t vote for his alliance candidates?

What might help Mahagathbandhan, led by Tejaswi, is Lok Janshakti Party’s Chirag Paswan’s ekla chalo decision. It is not clear if Chirag will be able to dim the lantern (RJD’s symbol) but it is becoming clearer as we approach election dates that Chirag may dent JD (U) ‘s votes. The one Bollywood film actor-MP son of late Ram Vilas Paswan fires his salvos at Nitish more than he criticises Tejaswi Or Rahul even as he sings paeans to Modi in rally after rally.

The word vidaee or bidaee has a special resonance in the context of Hindi heartland. When a daughter leaves her maika(parents’ house) on wedding, the act is called vidaee. It is both a joyous and sad occasion. Joyous because the daughter has been married and will settle down in a new home. Sad because she is leaving her parents’ house where she grew up.

Will November 10 for Nitish a day to celebrate or mourn?

Mohammed Wajihuddin, a senior journalist, is associated with The Times of India, Mumbai. This piece has been picked up from his blog.

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