Janata Dal (United) leader and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on Thursday claimed he was not an arrogant politician, and denied that his government’s response to the coronavirus – its haphazard lockdown measures – contributed to public disenchantment against him, NDTV reported. “Please don’t call me arrogant,” Kumar said with folded hands, while addressing the media.
Asked about his silence during the lockdown and the criticism he received for his handling of the migrant crisis, Kumar said: “How can you not know what efforts we made since the lockdown started?”
The Janata Dal (United)-led government has done a lot of work in Bihar, Kumar claimed. “If someone is spreading falsehoods, what can we do?” he asked.
When the Narendra Modi government imposed a countrywide lockdown to contain the spread of Covid-19, Bihar was in the headlines for Kumar’s poor management of the crisis. The Janata Dal (United) chief had also shut down the state’s borders to prevent migrant workers – who were walking back to their homes – from entering the state. Given Bihar’s large migrant-worker population, it was perhaps the state worst hit by the lockdown.
But Kumar on Thursday claimed his government “conveyed every step that we took” during the crisis. “Yet some people kept criticising us,” he added. “If that gave people the wrong idea then how can we stop it?”
The JD(U) leader, who may soon become the chief minister of Bihar for the seventh time, also defended the patchy execution of his government’s liquor ban, pointing out that there would always be “10% people” who violated rules. “So many nations try to tackle crime but it is never at zero level,” he added. “See how much we were able to control crime in Bihar.”
This year’s election in the state was expected to be a mandate on Kumar’s governance and the general mood of anti-incumbency. And while the race to form the next government appeared to be going down to the wire, it ultimately ended in the National Democratic Alliance’s favour. The coalition – that managed to defy all exit polls, surmount anti-incumbency of 15 years, and counter a spirited challenge from a resurgent Opposition – won 125 seats in the 243-member State Assembly. The Opposition Grand Alliance clinched 110.
The BJP one-upped its ally for the first time in the state by winning 74 seats to emerge as the larger party in the alliance. Kumar, on the other hand, saw his clout diminish as the JD(U)’s numbers came down to 43 from 71 in 2015. This was its worst performance since the 2005 Assembly polls.
While trends suggest that Nitish has held on to his traditional support base, Assembly poll results have clearly reduced Kumar’s stature. Experts believe that after emerging the dominant partner, the BJP might impact the choice of Bihar’s next chief minister. Saffron leaders, however, have underlined that Kumar remains their choice as the next chief minister of Bihar as per “the party’s commitment”.
Kumar on Thursday said he had personally not made any claims to the chief ministerial post, adding that the final decision on the matter would be taken collectively by the National Democratic Alliance.
Meanwhile, RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav, whose party emerged as the single largest party with 75 seats, challenged Kumar on Thursday to “listen to his conscience and step down”.
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‘You got it wrong’
In his address to the media on Thursday, Kumar also sought to clarify his recent “aakhiri chunaav [last election]” remark, which triggered intense speculations, and claimed that it was an utterance made by him whenever he wrapped up an election campaign. “But it was misunderstood this time,” he said, according to PTI.
“You guys did not get it right,” Kumar added. “I say the same thing at the last rally in every election ant bhala to sab bhala [all is well that ends well]. Listen to what I said before and after it and you will understand the context.”
The JD(U) leader blamed some unspecified elements in the society for creating confusion about his intentions. “I have been selflessly serving people,” he claimed. “Still, some people succeeded in creating some confusion. You must have noted the anxieties triggered in public mind following the projections of the exit polls.”