PATNA PUZZLE
THE WEEK|November 15, 2020
After an election season dominated by “aspiration” rather than caste equations, Nitish Kumar is banking on his track record to pull him through
PRATUL SHARMA

No chief minister in the Hin-di heartland has had four consecutive terms in office. Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan had to resign in 2018, after his third term, though he returned to power in 2020. Former Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh, too, was ousted after three terms, as was Sheila Dikshit in Delhi. States like Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Rajasthan have mostly voted against incumbent governments.

Among current chief ministers, Odisha’s Naveen Patnaik is the only one who is in his fourth consecutive term. Other chief ministers who were in office for four consecutive terms are former Sikkim chief minister Pawan Kumar Chamling—the longest-serving chief minister in India (24 years and 5 months)—followed by Jyoti Basu (23 years) in West Bengal and Manik Sarkar (20 years) in Tripura.

Nitish Kumar is already Bihar’s longest-serving chief minister. But the 69-year-old’s appeal seems to be diminishing. Can he become the first chief minister in the Hindi heartland to win a fourth consecutive term? “These are plebiscitary elections for Nitish Kumar,” said Saibal Gupta, veteran political analyst and founder-secretary of Asian Development Research Institute (ADRI), Patna. “These elections are witnessing a new trend—the entry of young players.”

Kumar had been in a sulk after the Lok Janshakti Party chief Chirag Paswan separated from the National Democratic Alliance to launch a scathing attack on him. It was only after the first phase of the elections on October 28 that Kumar started giving interviews, at the insistence of members of his party, the Janata Dal (United), and BJP leaders. The NDA leaders, too, stepped up their attack on the opposition grand alliance. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s jibes like “yuvraj of jungle raj”, “double yuvraj” at Rashtriya Janata Dal’s Tejashwi Yadav sharpened the BJP’s messaging against the grand alliance, at a time when Tejashwi was attracting crowds.

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