The first 100 days of Nitish Kumar-led Government in Bihar can be summed up in one word ‘lackluster’. But then, this was to be expected, once the euphoria of winning polls settled down and the ground reality of numbers became clear.
Winning just 71 seats against 80 won by RJD, put Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) on the back foot. While he commanded respect across Bihar as the best choice for the Chief Minister’s post, it was RJD, as the senior coalition partner, which foisted Lalu’s younger and totally inexperienced son Tejaswi Yadav as the Deputy Chief Minister. That move made it clear to one and all that while Nitish Kumar would remain at the helm, real power lay with RJD or rather Lalu Prasad Yadav.
Losing the battle of ‘perception’
The biggest hit that Nitish Kumar has taken in the first 100 days in office has been ‘perception’. In the run-up to polls in Bihar, he was seen as the man who could not only stand up to Narendra Modi but continue to develop Bihar at the rapid pace which he had set up during his previous tenure.
However, with his party JD(U) winning lesser seats than RJD, he took office on a weaker ground than he would have liked. While he commanded the state with total control during his days with BJP as his coalition partner, this time around, he is handicapped by a senior coalition partner that doesn’t want to give him too much room.
Therefore, it is not surprising that his government’s first 100 days has been marked by accusations of ‘Jungle Raj’ coming back and his development agenda making slow progress. The threat of law and order breaking down under Nitish Kumar’s rule was NDA’s main poll rhetoric, as they kept repeating the fear of Jungle Raj coming back with RJD as a coalition partner.
The record since the new government took over has shown that there may be some truth in it, as there has been a rise in crime since the new regime took over. The worry is not the crime itself but how the police have been responding to it. The lack of police motivation in following up on cases is raising fear and suspicion of Nitish Kumar’s ability to motivate and push for police reforms, with a belligerent RJD on his back.
Slow start to 7 guiding principles of the new government
On taking office, CM Nitish Kumar announced 7 principles that his government would follow as a state policy. One of his poll promises was to provide piped water for drinking and toilet use to every household in the state. While this is essential, implementing it requires massive upgrade in infrastructure, funds for which are still not in place. Cosmetic projects undertaken so far won’t fulfill widespread expectations.
Despite his earnest attempt, availability of funds has also hampered release of tenders for large infrastructure projects and this delay is beginning to cause frustration with the government.
Road connectivity has been a major issue in Bihar, as has availability of power, both of which have held back investments from flowing into Bihar. Investments in agriculture related infrastructure is yet to take off in a major way. All of these together are certainly going to impact the 10.5% growth that Bihar has been witnessing in recent years.
Another poll promise was to ban sale of liquor in the state. He has made good on that promise by announcing that from 1 April all country liquor sale shall be banned. After some confusion, it was clarified that the government intended to ban Indian Made Foreign Liquor as well but it would happen in phases. This is surely going to impact revenues in the state and also make his government unpopular with some sections. The loss of revenue will have to be made up from other sources that will eventually lead to further heartburn among the affected sections, going forward. All of these will make Nitish Kumar look more unpopular.
Poor health services infrastructure has been a major problem in Bihar and Nitish Kumar had promised a greater thrust in improving the same. Not much has happened thus far.
Can Nitish Kumar pull up his government?
Unfortunately, the gap between promise and delivery is widening, and constant pressure from the senior coalition partner isn’t helping either. But all isn’t bad news for the government.
A positive development has been the inauguration of two major diesel locomotive manufacturing projects with foreign collaboration in the state, both of which will have a cascading effect in developing the ancillary industry in the region.
Nitish Kumar recently cleared the Rs 16,960 crore Patna Metro Rail Project that is likely to be functional by 2021, making it the seventh city in the country to have a metro rail service. With the centre providing a large share of the total cost, it is likely to meet the deadlines. If that happens, it will be a major gain to show for this government.
In addition, the government has been pushing forward the loan scheme for students and this is likely to be well received by students, as they prepare for the forthcoming exams.
Once exams results are announced, it remains to be seen how soon the government fulfills its poll promise of providing 5000 meritorious girl students with 2-wheelers, as this is bound to impact the already stressed state finances.
The state government will have to step up its infrastructure and social sector spending, if Nitish Kumar plans to win the battle of ‘perception’.
Question mark over political ambitions
With Nitish Kumar leading the fight in defeating the BJP-led NDA in Bihar, he was widely seen as the most promising bet to unify and lead a third front option against the BJP at the centre. However, several parallel developments have put a question mark to that ambition.
Firstly, Nitish Kumar is seen weaker now than earlier in his own state, and that itself puts a question mark about his ability to deliver a successful ‘Mahagathbandhan’ in UP. With Congress doing better than expected in Bihar, and a likely coalition with the Left Front promising a better result in Bengal for the Congress, the chances of a ‘Mahagathbandhan’ moving smoothly, if at all, seems increasingly doubtful.
The only silver lining for Nitish Kumar is that the BJP at the centre is continuing to shoot itself in the foot and that may still provide a window of opportunity for him to stage a comeback in central politics.