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Bihar elections – Nitish Kumar kicks off campaign

Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar kicked off the assembly election campaign of his Janata Dal (United), or JD (U), on Monday, promising to create access to irrigation for every farm in the state and pledging that prohibition will continue if his party’s coalition government is voted back to power.

In his first virtual rally ahead of the polls that will take place amid the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic, Kumar acknowledged the support and welfare measures provided by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government at the Centre and hit out at Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), which responded in kind and questioned his track record.

“We have achieved several milestones in our all-round development journey, in sectors like roads, health, power and piped drinking water for all…Now, we promise to provide irrigation facilities to every parcel of cultivable land and further strengthen rural road network to improve the lives of 76% of the population dependent on agriculture.” said Kumar, who has named his campaign Nishchay Samvad (Determine Through Dialogue).

In his nearly three-hour-long interaction with voters and party workers through social media platforms, Kumar said some people had developed a strong antipathy towards him since he introduced prohibition in Bihar in 2016, yielding to a demand by women and the young.

“I must explain that there is a difference between swearing by Bapu’s name and doing something as a mark of tribute to his teachings,” he said, referring to Mahatma Gandhi. “Prohibition is going to stay till I am around, whatever may be the cost,” he said, explaining the beneficial effects it had on law and order, family life and household incomes.

The JD (U) president, upset by a social media post by Lalu Prasad that termed him (Kumar) a drag on Bihar, asked elderly voters to explain to the young generation the change between Bihar now and during the 15-year rule of the jailed RJD leader and his wife Rabri Devi.

“People are breathing a sigh of relief that you are inside jail. When you had the opportunity to do good, you wasted the opportunity,” Kumar said.

Kumar attacked what he called the self-centered politics pursued by Lalu Prasad and cautioned the young not to fall prey to catchy slogans. “Politics without principles, wealth without work and knowledge without character” is not worthwhile, he said. “We had asked them (RJD) to explain the charges of corruption, but they refused,” he said, indicating it was the point at which the JD (U) walked out of the Grand Alliance with the RJD and Congress in 2018 and joined hands with the BJP.

He also accused the RJD of using minorities and underprivileged sections as vote banks, and took credit for establishing communal harmony and social amity among all sections of Bihar society.

On Covid-19 and floods, Kumar said that the state had handled the situation with care and had created adequate facilities for testing and put in place a three-stage treatment protocol. He also acknowledged the central government’s support in fighting the pandemic and setting up two 500-bed hospitals in Bihta and Muzaffarpur, and providing ree rations and cooking gas cylinders.

Leader of the opposition in the Bihar assembly and RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav attacked Kumar for what he called his 15 years of misrule.

“Bihar is a state with maximum youth population. Why has the chief minister not been able to stop migration, malnutrition and unemployment in the state even after being in power for 15 years in the state? He was not able to establish industries in the state,” Yadav said.

“In the last 15 years, why did unemployment, poverty, hunger and migration increase in Bihar? Why is the unemployment rate, at 46.61% in Bihar, the highest in the country and why has it become the centre of unemployment?,” he said, asking the chief minister to respond.

Citing Niti Aayog and National Health Mission data, Yadav questioned Kumar: “Why is Bihar getting pushed behind every year?. As per Niti Aayog, the state is ranked lower on education, health and other development indices. Who is responsible for this?”

Yadav questioned the state’s track record on law and order. “An incident of rape takes place every four hours, while a murder takes place every five hours in Bihar. CM should talk about this as well,” he said.

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