Will Bihar CM Nitish Kumar’s COVID-19 Response Impact NDA’s Poll Performance in Upcoming State Elections?

Bihar CM Nitish Kumar

Bihar CM Nitish Kumar’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis in the state has been widely condemned and even the BJP is now weary of the impact of this negative publicity as far as the upcoming state elections are concerned. There is a growing concern in the ruling establishment about the fact that Nitish Kumar’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis was not quite up to the mark and this may take a beating over the alliance’s performance in the upcoming elections in the state. 

With Nitish Kumar’s public image being severely hit in recent weeks over lack of leadership during the coronavirus crisis, there is a strong belief in the ruling establishment that the sheen and popularity that he once enjoyed may be declining and his reputation for not being efficient and active in mitigating the COVID-19 crisis especially in the context of low testing in the state and the step-motherly attitude towards its migrant class stranded in different parts of the country may be a cause of concern.

The BJP had conducted a virtual rally ahead of the Bihar polls on Sunday but continued to deny that the rally had anything to do with the elections. The rally was an attempt to analyse and examine the extent of anger on the ground pertaining to Bihar CM Nitish Kumar’s so-called inefficient and poor handling of the migrant crisis and the medical infrastructure required to deal with the pandemic at the state level.

The Deputy CM and veteran BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi highlighted that the virtual rally had nothing to do with the upcoming assembly polls in the state but was a way of reaching out to people with the central government’s achievements but he didn’t deny the fact that since this was the election year, it was impossible for the rally not to be politicised.

At the virtual rally, Bihari migrants were praised for their tremendous hard work and labour and contribution to the Indian economy by prominent leaders such as Home Minister Amit Shah.

But perhaps the relationship between CM Nitish Kumar and the ruling party is not at its best given the former attracting extensive negative publicity over manhandling of the COVID-19 crisis and the migrant class’s growing apathy. Despite the plea made by Railway Minister Piyush Goyal, Nitish Kumar didn’t allow trains from Mumbai and Delhi to go to Bihar for the entire month of March. This was the time when states like Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Rajasthan were busy bringing their migrant workers back home in special trains. This also made the Bihar government headed by Nitish Kumar look extremely insensitive and hostile to the needs and demands of the migrant class.

For as long as the JD(U) and the BJP have been fighting the polls together, the organisational strength of the BJP has always proved beneficial for the NDA alliance. But this time around, the Nitish Kumar brand seems to have lost its sheen and Brand Modi may need to do all the work on its own. 

What is interesting to note is that since 2015, the BJP has begun to make its popularity felt even in the rural belts and is no longer dependent on the urban vote bank. A glimpse of the  virtual rally on Sunday was proof enough of its organisational power. The fact that the party managed to set up LED screens in all the 72,000 polling booths in the state was nothing short of a mega spectacle amid the pandemic.

It is also being predicted that this is the last year when the BJP will be allying with the JD(U)in the state with Nitish Kumar as the chief ministerial candidate and the party is certainly seeking beyond him. The BJP has also been portraying alternative faces in Bihar politics such as Sanjay Jaiswal, Nityanand Rai and Mangal Pandey as the potential leaders of tomorrow. 

It would be interesting to note how the BJP and the JD(U)would collectively fare in the upcoming assembly elections and whether the negative publicity around CM Nitish Kumar’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis will prove an important determinant of people’s voting choices in the upcoming assembly polls.

 

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