How Bihar’s turnaround hero Nitish Kumar lost all his aura

Nitish Kumar, Narendra Modi, Bihar, Chief Minister, JD(U), alliance
The monetary benefits that Nitish Kumar continues to shower on his ministers and lawmakers comes despite the fact that many hail from affluent families. Photo: PTI.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is going through the worst phase of his political career. The man who was once credited with the ‘turnaround’ of Bihar and heaped awards for his good governance is now being questioned for his ‘gross administrative failures’.

Strangely, this has happened in his second innings with the BJP. What can be seen as another setback for Nitish, is BJP’s silence over the matter. The party has been mysteriously silent while Nitish’s downfall is happening quickly.

Nitish had joined the BJP-led NDA in 1996 after the Samata Party which he had floated with the help of his mentor George Fernandes proved to be a big flop in Bihar. Nitish who had split the parent Janata Dal in 1994 to from his own party had hoped a lot from the electorate in Bihar, but suffered a serious setback when the Samata Party won only seven seats in the 1995 Bihar assembly elections while contesting against Lalu Prasad’s party RJD.

After joining NDA, Nitish’s political career took off. Later, Samata Party got merged with Janata Dal (United) of Sharad Yadav, which he now heads.

Good times 

The ‘good times’ for Nitish began in 2005 when he was appointed as the Chief Minister of Bihar after the Lalu Prasad-led RJD suffered a defeat in the October-November Assembly elections. The golden period of his career was between 2007 and 2010 when he was honoured with several awards for development initiatives he undertook to pull Bihar out of morass.

While the national media handed him awards like ‘Indian of the year-Politics, 2010’ (NDTV), ‘India’s Person of the year, 2010’ (Forbes), ‘Indian of the year-Politics,2010’ (CNN-IBN), ‘Business Reformer of the year, 2009’ (Economics Times), ‘Great Indian of the year-Politics’, 2008” (CNN-IBN) and ‘The Best Chief Minister, 2007’ (CNN-IBN), international media called him one of the emerging powerful politicians of the country.

All these recognition came when he was with the NDA. In 2013, he broke away from the alliance, following serious differences with the BJP over the naming of Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate, and in the next five years, he ran his government with the support of Lalu against whose policies he had rebelled since 1994.

No friend in time of need 

In July 2017, Nitish was forced to return to the NDA fold after his deputy and Lalu’s son Tejashwi Yadav faced corruption charges. However, his hopes of a better future in the company of arch rival-turned-friend Narendra Modi were dashed.

While none of his political demands was considered by PM Modi, a series of scandals such as the Srijan scam involving transfer of huge amount of government money to the account of a non-governmental organisation in alleged connivance with bank officials, the Muzaffarpur childcare home sex scandal involving the alleged rape of at least 34 girls and now, the deaths of more than 170 children from suspected encephalitis in the same district have exposed his ‘administrative failures’.

All these incidents have put Nitish Kumar in a tight spot, and obnoxiously enough, two of the three cases are now being monitored by the Supreme Court.

In troubled times like these, Nitish has been left to fend for himself with no support from the BJP. Although the health portfolio in Bihar has been with the BJP since 2005 when the NDA came into power, the chief minister has been held responsible for children’s deaths.

Mangal Pandey, the current health minister in Bihar is from the BJP, and even his predecessor Ashwini Kumar Choubey was from the saffron party.

This has irked the JD-U which alleges that a ‘sinister game’ is being played at a high level to ‘defame’ Nitish and destroy his political career.

A smear campaign?

A campaign being run on Facebook by the supporters of Nitish has highlighted how a conspiracy has been hatched to tarnish the chief minister as part of a well thought-out strategy.

“The health portfolio has been with the BJP right since the NDA government came to power in Bihar, yet Nitish Kumar is being held responsible for every ill. Nitish held an emergency meeting after the encephalitis outbreak while this was the responsibility of the health minister. Still Nitish is being held responsible,” said one of his supporters involved in the campaign.

The campaigner said how Ashwini Kumar Choubey, minister of state for health and family welfare was found taking a nap during a press conference held by Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan while Mangal Pandey was caught on camera asking about scores of India’s cricket match against Pakistan.

They further ask as to how the National Institute of Virology, Pune, Institute of Toxicology Research, Lucknow, and AIIMS research with help from UNICEF have failed to come up with any conclusion despite their long research.

The way the Modi government has been ignoring Bihar’s request for special category status and other interests, indicate tough days are ahead for Nitish Kumar.