Analysing The Politics of Nitish Kumar
The Bihar Government, under the chief Minister of Nitish Kumar, failed to achieve sustainable development goals (SDGs) with the overall score of 50 and ranked last in India. This government must prepare itself for the wrath of the people in upcoming elections.
Dr. Nawal Kishore
June 26, 2020
Nitish Kumar is a member of the legislative council for third consecutive term since he took oath of Chief Minister of Bihar in 2005. His decision to confine himself to the legislative council, an indirectly-elected house and his continued reluctance to seek popular mandate through legislative assembly election raises a serious question about Janata Dal United’s claims about his popularity among masses. He has been a chief minister of Bihar since 2005, except a brief spell of Jitan Ram Manjhi (March 2014 to February 2015), without contesting a single election. This implies that the popular face of JDU, as well as the head of the Bihar government, is lacking a popular base. It may also be claimed that electorates of Bihar did not get a single opportunity to elect or reject him as he never contested any assembly election. A pertinent question arises that why has he chosen to evade direct elections throughout his career as executive head of the state government. Consequently, one is forced to believe that his popularity is carefully crafted and managed. JDU has time and again claimed and projected Nitish Kumar as a politician with a clean image, development-oriented and good governance; however, it remains to be tested by a popular electoral method. As it is a fundamental requirement in the democratic tradition to seek a popularity test by the party in the government after every five years through election to the popular house, a similar process is also required for the leader of the party. Or else history will record him as a leader with democratic deficit and his political popularity will be considered a political myth. In this context, the political history of Bihar will record Nitish Kumar as the only CM who never contested a legislative assembly election during his entire political career as chief ministers. Even though Nitish Kumar was projected as the consensus leader of ‘mahagathabandhan’ which recorded a massive victory in Bihar assembly election in 2015, he decided not to contest. At times, it seems like an insult to the popular mandate, for the reason that an indirectly-elected chief minister heads the directly-elected legislature. There can be exceptional circumstances when it is the only option but to continue for such a long time is undoubtedly a dubious phenomenon and a dangerous trend in democracy too.
In several instances, there has been an established democratic tradition in the state politics of India to seek popular mandate by contesting election to the legislative assembly, if the CM-elect is not a member of any house of the state assembly. Apart from Nitish Kumar who has always ignored popular mandate by opting to be a member of the legislative council, there have been three examples of seeking popularity tests by CM-elect in the past from different states where there is bicameral legislature. First, the CM-elect of two states, UP and Jharkhand, were forced to resign on their way to seek popular mandate. The first instance is the case of Maniram assembly constituency of Gorakhpur district in Uttar Pradesh in 1971. The then CM, late Tribhuvan Narayan Singh lost the by-poll & was forced to resign. The second was the case of Jharkhand CM-elect (2009), Shibu Soren having lost from Tamar assembly constituency of Ranchi was forced to resign. Secondly, there were examples of CM-elect like Rajnath Singh (2001), Mulayam Singh Yadav (2004) of UP, Ghulam Nabi Azad (2000) of Jammu & Kashmir and Sushil Kumar Shinde (2003) of Maharashtra who are appreciated for their decision to go for the democratic test as they contested assembly by-polls instead of opting for the Legislative Councils. Thirdly, there is another example where having been elected to the legislative council; these CMs decided to undergo a popular mandate test by contesting election to the legislative assembly in the subsequent elections. In this case, Lalu Prasad became an MLC in 1990 after becoming CM but decided to contest Raghopur assembly seat in 1995 and won. One more example was set by Rabri Devi who became an MLC in 1997 after becoming the CM, but she contested a by-poll in 2000 from Raghopur seat and won.
It is in this context that his political career needs to be analysed in respect of political opportunism and changing ideological commitment. It can be divided into three phases; first, is undoubtedly the period (1977-1994) before the formation of the Samata Party in 1994. He started his political activism from the JP movement, and VP Singh’s government was the last stoppage when he served as agriculture minister (1989-90). He began his electoral journey by losing the first two assembly elections in 1977 and 1980 on Janata Party and Janata Party (SC) symbol respectively. He won the 1985 assembly election for the first time on Lok Dal party symbol. Subsequently, he won Lok Sabha elections in 1989 for the first time and then 1991 on Janata Dal symbol. This era was marked by anti-congress and socialistic ideological dispensation in the company of Janata Party, Lok Dal and Janata dal, parties which stood for socialist, secular and Mandal politics. In the second phase which began with the formation of Samata Party in 1994 when Nitish along with George Fernandes decided to part ways from the Janata Dal. By joining hands with BJP (Hindutva forces) in 1996, he reflected a decisive break from the past ideological commitment. In this phase, he fought one assembly election in 1995 which he won but decided to resign for the reason that the Samata Party under his leadership had performed very poorly, won just 7 seats out of the total of 307 contested seats. Notwithstanding, he managed to win almost all Lok Sabha elections from 1996 to 2004 in alliance with BJP, except for the defeat that he got at the hand of Vijay Krishna, RJD from Barh in 2004, one of the two parliamentary seats, Nalanda and Barh, that he contested in 2004.
The third phase began from 2005, the year that saw the first full term as chief minister for Nitish Kumar with the support of BJP. It was this phase that JDU started crafting and using his face with development, clean-image and good-governance for political ends. Since then he has formed and headed all governments in Bihar except a brief spell of Jeetan Ram Manjhi 2014 of approximately nine months. However, he has displayed all kinds of political opportunism by taking support from all ideological streams from extreme left to rightist ideological forces as well as centre too. His exit from NDA in 2013 on BJP’s decision to project Narendra Modi as PM candidate in 2014 brought him closer to secular forces once again. Henceforth Nitish was able to continue as CM with outside support of RJD and others. In a series of political developments since then, a grand alliance was formed at the state level among RJD, INC and JDU and Nitish Kumar was accepted as a chief ministerial candidate. This grand alliance defeated NDA under BJP leadership in Bihar assembly elections 2015 with a considerable margin.
The dramatic decision of Nitish Kumar to walk out of the grand alliance and re-align with BJP to form the government again has been seen as a cheat of grand mandate of 2015 in the popular imagination of Bihar. Apart from this, there have been more than dozens of scams from Srijan scam to toilet scam which have surfaced during his term from 2005, and they have created various cracks in his rhetorical claims on development and good governance. In view of the incidence of bricks and stones pelting on Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s cavalcade on his way to Nandan village in Buxar district and black flag in Saharsa district as part of his ‘Vikas Samiksha Yatra 2017’, it reflected that his popularity claims as development face are getting dismantled in the eyes of masses. Similarly, the Muzaffarpur shelter home rape case, failure of liquor prohibition and rising crime in the state is an irreparable blot on the rule of law situation in Bihar. The lack of employment opportunities has forced a large section of poor to migrate to other states in search of livelihood, which again says about employment opportunities for labourers in Bihar. The health infrastructure in Bihar had miserably failed to meet the challenges caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. The Bihar government has also failed to provide timely relief and support to migrant labourers and students stranded in the other States of India.
The findings of the Sustainable development goals (SDGs) report prepared and published by Niti Aayog has reflected a very depressing scene on the issues of governance and development in the state of Bihar. Bihar has a score of 50 out of 100, which is lower than the average score of 60 for India. What is even more disheartening is the fact that the performance of Bihar is worse than all the states as well as the union territories. Nitish Kumar must be made answerable for this abysmal performance. The state government of Bihar failed to play the pivotal role that was necessary for developing policies to further the cause of development in Bihar. Hence, the entire state government must be made directly responsible for such horrific performance that has shamed Bihar. Finally, his proclamations of zero tolerance to crime, corruption and communalism have fallen flat given Srijan scam, Muzaffarpur shelter home rape case, liquor prohibition, flood reliefs, and so on. He has given ample signs of compromise on various issues of secularism and social justice in recent times.
Nitish Kumar failed to achieve Sustainable development goals (SDGs)
Before one dwell into the findings of the SDG report, which for most parts is depressing for the state of Bihar. The report also highlights that the glorious state of Bihar has now moved to the rock bottom on the overall performance measured by the SDG index. Bihar has a score of 50 out of 100 which is lower than the average score of 60 for India. What is even more disheartening is the fact that the performance of Bihar is worse than all the states as well as the union territories. The ‘holier than thou alliance’ led by Mr. Nitish Kumar must be made answerable for what Dr. Rajiv Kumar, Vice Chairman of NITI Aayog said “There is a growing consensus now that the States play a pivotal role in designing, executing, and monitoring development policies and interventions. States and UTs are the key drivers of the SDGs”. (page no iii, messages, SDG India Index 2.0)
It is obvious that the state government of Bihar failed to play the pivotal role that was necessary for developing policies to further the cause of development in Bihar. Hence, the entire state government must be made directly responsible for such horrific performance that has shamed our state.
Assessing the performance
The Niti Ayog on the recommendation of the United Nations measures the performance of a state on 16 goals and assigns scores on each of these scores out of 100. However, the ministers and the government of such a hardworking, academically sound population have let their people down. Let us now take a look at the report card of Bihar and apply to it the same criteria that Bihar Board uses to mark its student which is: No Poverty, Zero Hunger, Good Health and Well Being, Quality Education, Gender Equality, Clean Water and Sanitation, Affordable and Clean Energy, Decent Work and Economic Growth, Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, Reduced Inequality, Sustainable Cities and Communities, Sustainable Consumption and Production, Climate Action, Life below Water, Life on land & Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions.
Of the 15 goals of sustainable development, Bihar has performed abysmally low in the first five which includes the fundamentals of human lives. By failing in the indices of hunger and quality education the state government is compromising the human capital of 12 crore people of Bihar. By just managing to secure a score of 33 in no poverty index, the failure of economic policies to ensure a bare minimum need to a large section of the people is evident. The state government during an entire year from 2018 to 2019 has failed in bringing even 0.01% of the population above the poverty line, the population below poverty line in Bihar remained absolutely stagnant at 33.74%. Under the failed governance of this state government every 3rd Bihari lies below the poverty line.
The government is not only ignorant of its poor but also of its women too, securing only 40 marks in the index. 40 had often been described in school under the former grading system as just pass. This government in an entire year has failed to lower the mortality death rates even by 1 per thousand, it remains as high as 165. Almost 6 out of every 10 (58.3%) pregnant women remain anaemic and sex ratio has declined from 908 to 900. In the times of women empowerment, this government is bent towards snatching power from women. This government is making mockery of the potential that the daughters of our state have, by the virtue of which they have outperformed boys on numerous occasions including the recent intermediate results.
When Baba Saheb Ambedkar said that: “I measure the progress of a community by the degree of progress which women have achieved”. He would never have thought that the most glorious state of this country would be so unsupportive of its women. It is here that one must remember Bhagvati Devi the stone cutting women through which RJD articulated very strongly the message of women empowerment.
Besides neglecting the women and the poor, the state government is dismissive of the youth, while every 1 out of 4 children (22.96%) is not enrolled in school, the dropout rate at secondary level has jumped from 25.9% to 39.73%. Add to this the double engine of the central government which further ensures that even the skilled and the educated remain out of employment as unemployment peaks to an all-time high of 45 years. With the overall score of 50 and ranked last in India, this government must prepare itself for the wrath of the people in upcoming elections.
Dr. Nawal Kishore is National Spokesperson of RJD and teaches political science at Rajdhani College, University of Delhi.