The BJP may have done away with the Yatra politics long back but this strangely has been kept alive by Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, a maverick politician known for bouncing back in the last hours. Call it the bizarre fancy for yatra—the trademark idea primarily associated with the BJP or to be more precise once firebrand Hindutva leader LK Advani, the Bihar chief minister has embarked on yet another yatra, the 13th in the past 16 years and 12th since 2009, to consolidate his core vote-bank in the state.
Through his new yatra—nicknamed “Samaj Sudhar Yatra”, Nitish wants to bring massive social reforms in the society by launching intensive campaigns against alcoholism, dowry and child marriages. What apparently pains the chief minister is that these social evils still prevail in the society despite his government launching frequent campaigns and also forming much-publicized human chains against them in the past.
The saddest part of the whole story is that the Bihar government-enforced total prohibition more than five years back, in April 2016, yet liquor continues to flow as usual as is evident from the huge recovery of alcohol bottles almost every day. In the past one month itself, the police and excise department sleuths have recovered around 1.50 lakh litres of illicit liquor, indicating an average 200 litre of alcohol is being recovered every hour! This indicates the predicament of Nitish who wants to be remembered as a “Social Reformer”.
During his extensive tours of the state in the course of his yatra, the chief minister is holding public rallies on the one hand and reviewing the progress of his government’s ongoing campaigns for social reforms on the other, according to information provided by his Cabinet Secretariat.
However, political experts and the opposition have described the move as an attempt to run his party’s programmes at the government’s expense. “I don’t see any logic behind undertaking frequent yatras by a chief minister. He already has been reviewing the progress of the government programmes during his meetings with officials at his Patna secretariat from time to time. This is nothing but his self-image-building exercise,” commented political expert Satya Narayan Madan.
Madan says the chief minister, in fact, has been misusing the government’s resources to put forth his party agenda for sheer political gains. “He wants to somehow stay in power with such ideas but I think it is too much now,” he asserts.
The main opposition RJD headed by Lalu Prasad has described the CM’s move as sheer nonsense. “It’s beyond everyone’s comprehension to see a chief minister frequently undertaking yatras from the government’s fund. This is a complete misuse of government funds for political gains,” commented RJD spokesperson Mrintunjay Tiwari. “Why a chief minister required to make a state-wide tour of the state every year? That means he is unable to govern the state,” Tiwari added.
It’s really interesting that Nitish has already undertaken 12 yatras in the past and it’s still counting! They include—Nyay yatra (2005), Vikas yatra (2009), Dhanyavad yatra (2009) Pravas yatra (2009), Seva yatra (2011), Adhikar yatra (2012), Sankalp yatra (2014), Sampark yatra (2014), Nishchay yatra (2016), Samiksha yatra (2017) and Jal-Jivan-Hariyali yatra (2019). This is enough to explain how the yatra politics has picked up momentum for Nitish post-2009—reminding the 90’s when the BJP’s yatras were at their peak.
In sharp contrast to him, the BJP undertook only one yatra during the same period. The last yatra—Jan Chetna Yatra—was launched by BJP patriarch LK Advani in October 2011. What was interesting, this yatra against corruption was launched not only from Bihar—to be more precise from Sitabdiara in Saran district which is the birthplace of anti-corruption crusader Jayprakash Narayan, but this was also flagged by Nitish. This was the first time that the BJP has kicked up any yatra from Bihar.
Nitish’s plan to undertake yet another yatra also highlights the “fault lines” in the ruling NDA which is now slowly making the situation tough for the Janata Dal United (JD-U). Although the BJP never gave any prominence to Nitish since he returned to the BJP camp four years back, the differences between the two partners are now clearly visible over various issues and hence the chief minister now wants to renew fresh contacts with the masses before it’s too late.
The first sign of strain in their relations came when the BJP refused to allot more than one berth to the JD-U in the Union cabinet despite Nitish’s repeated demands. Secondly, the Centre has rejected the JD-U’s demand for granting special category status to Bihar and also showed no interest in Nitish’s request for granting central university status to the century-old Patna University, once known as the Oxford of the east.
Yet, what keeps annoying Nitish much is the BJP’s frequent bids to raise contentious issues which have the potential to damage JD-U’s traditional vote-banks. Taking a cue from Haryana, the BJP is now demanding a ban on offering Namaz in public. Last month, the Bihar assembly Speaker Vijay Kumar Sinha from the BJP introduced a new practice in the House by asking the members to sing “Vande Mataram” which drew strong protests from Muslim members, all belonging to the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM).
Again, the BJP is also openly supporting RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s rhetoric, asking Hindus to pledge to ensure the “ghar wapsi” or “return home” of those who had converted to other religions. The BJP is also seeking a review of the total prohibition. All these moves have caused serious differences in the NDA although Nitish has very limited or just no “options” left now.