The Waning Reputation of Bihar’s ‘Sushasan Babu’

Nitish Kumar’s credibility and reputation have suffered a hit in this Bihar Elections; will this reflect in the final election results for his party?


Amatullah Batterywala, Writer

Artwork by Neel Ghaghada

The northern state of Bihar is voting to elect its Chief Minister this year. Voting was done in three stages and the results are slated to be declared on 10th November. While the election rallies are still the same as the pre-pandemic times, with the minor addition of a complete disregard for social distancing or any other preventive measures, the norms are supposedly being followed at polling booths. Amidst all this, the key players are lashing out at each other verbally to gain better traction for themselves. However, this article is not about them. It is about the current Chief Minister of Bihar, Mr Nitish Kumar.

Mr Kumar is contesting elections again to secure his position as the Chief Minister, technically for the 7th time. He has occupied the highest seat of the state since 2005, aside from a brief resignation between 2014 to 2015.

Who is Nitish Kumar?

Mr Kumar is contesting elections again to secure his position as the Chief Minister, technically for the 7th time. He has occupied the highest seat of the state since 2005, aside from a brief resignation between 2014 to 2015.

Nitish Kumar had worked with people like Jayprakash Narayan and Ram Manohar Lohia before joining the Janta Party. Under Atal Bihari Vajpayee, he first served as a Union Minister of Railways from 1998-99. Although his stint as a Railway Minister was short, he is credited with bringing in widespread reforms for the Indian Railways including reforms related to the ‘Tatkal Scheme’ and ‘E-ticketing’

What is the reason for his win in Bihar?

Nitish Kumar first contested for the seat of Chief Minister in 2000. However, he resigned before even attempting to prove his majority. He finally assumed the position in 2005 after elections were held for the second time that year in October-November. He took oath as the Chief Minister by forming an alliance with the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) under the common title of National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

The reason Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) (JDU) was able to garner a popular vote was because of the rampant corruption and lawlessness that had spread in the state after Lalu Prasad Yadav’s reign. He was viewed as a fit candidate to counter Lalu’s caste-based politics with his version of socialist politics.

Nitish Kumar’s first apparent task was to bring the prevailing crime and corruption under control which had flourished under Lalu’s rule. He did so by going after corrupt and powerful politicians and putting them behind bars. He also booked several of his own party members under serious charges.

Under Kumar’s governance, the state also adopted a policy of social development. It provided free bicycles to girls who stayed in schools. This proved to be quite successful seen through an increase in female enrollment rate and decrease of girl student dropouts. The alcohol ban was another initiative which was lauded by women back then. These two schemes made him quite popular with women and are said to have gained him a huge vote share from them.

Another successful venture was the negotiations with Bihar’s Maoist insurgent groups. Instead of taking a violent route to deal with them, he decided to open talks and actually understand their problems. He was, up to some extent, also successful in solving their issues. His infrastructural projects for the state have also proved to be very beneficial.

It was due to these reasons that Nitish Kumar got the title of Sushasan Babu which was essentially a reflection of his good governance. However, this reputation has been severely challenged during this election.

Nitish Kumar is clearly thrown off his gait with increasing anti-incumbency sentiments as well as the apparent opposition towards him and his party.

So where did it all go wrong?

Nitish Kumar had broken off his alliance with the BJP in 2013 after which he contested the 2015 Bihar elections with Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Indian National Congress (INC). However, the tables turned once again in 2017 when Lalu’s son Tejashwi Yadav was facing charges of corruption. What was even more shocking was the fact that Kumar went back to his old ally, the BJP. On the other hand, Tejashwi effectively became the leader of the opposition.

This was probably the first of the dominoes to fall which would then lead to the man’s tarnished reputation. Now, he is being called Dal Badlu (a person who changes their teams) and Paltu Ram (someone who goes back on their word).

Fast-forwarding to the current elections, Nitish Kumar is facing severe backlash due to the handling of the plight of migrant workers who were coming back home during or after lockdown and the consequent widespread unemployment. His election rallies have been marred with sloganeering against him. Some even went as far to throw onions at him at one of his rallies.

While this kind of security lapse is definitely worrisome, keeping in mind the fact that Mr Kumar is still the Chief Minister of the state, that discussion is for another time. However, these disturbances caused the man to lose his temper and lash out at the crowd. While this, in, part is understandable, it is not expected of a seasoned politician like himself. It also ended up sidetracking everything he spoke about in his speech.

Nitish Kumar is clearly thrown off his gait with increasing anti-incumbency sentiments as well as the apparent opposition towards him and his party. It is clear from his personal attacks on Lalu’s family as well as his outbursts in public rallies.

What has been noteworthy is that the BJP, who is contesting these elections with JD(U) has not suffered this tarnish in their reputation. This may in part be because of Narendra Modi and his image as the Prime Minister. Numerous interviews with state-citizens have shown support for Mr Modi at the centre while condemning their coalition in the state. Even Yogi Adiyanath, who is the Chief Minister of neighbouring Uttar Pradesh was seen championing the alliance. However, his speech was aimed more towards gaining votes in the name of the Prime Minister.

The way things stand, it looks like the NDA alliance has been reduced to just Mr Modi. Nitish Kumar is clearly being sidelined in spite of continuous assurances by the Prime Minister as well as the Home Minister that he will remain the face of the coalition.

On the other hand, Tejashwi is gaining popularity among the youth with his economic promises of providing more jobs to the youth and policies on similar lines. Another interesting candidate is Ram Vilas Paswan’s son, Chirag Paswan. Chirag has broken away from the NDA coalition in Bihar due to differences against Nitish Kumar but is still a staunch supporter of BJP which is a conundrum in itself. With the state having a history of shifting political alliances, it will be interesting to see which parties actually form the government.

While Bihar is a politically charged state right now, what remains to be seen is whether the opposition of Nitish Kumar is a media-led ‘echo chamber’ or a highly prevalent anti-incumbency feeling. Irrespective of whether the Chief Minister gets another term or not, it will be imperative for him to regain his reputation as the just governor or Sushasan Babu that he had created for himself.


Amatullah is a second-year mass media student at St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai. She has a keen interest in politics, media and entertainment.