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Bihar elections: Nitish-NaMo grudge match to shape Modi captaincy

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New Delhi: It is imminent that by November 8, the Bihar enigma will come to the fore as a consequence of a high-octane grudge match featuring Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. It is a battle that is most likely to affect national politics and shape Modi’s remaining tenure as PM, importantly his government’s capacity to push reforms and key legislations in Parliament.

nitish_sl_-11-10-2012The chime and bugle for Bihar battle were sounded on Wednesday when the Election Commission announced a five-phase poll schedule, beginning October 12 and ending November 5, with results on November 8.

On one-side are OBC stalwarts Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad, along with Congress, and on the other, the NDA, led by Modi and supported by alliance partners Ramvilas Paswan, JD(U) rebel Dalit politician Jiten Manjhi and OBC politician Upendra Kushwaha.

The essentially bi-polar contest will test Bihar’s caste and political equations against Modi’s mega development pledge. Though a state election yet Bihar’s results could have a massive fallout on the Modi government. A win would improve his political stock and empower him to deliver on policy issues like GST and land bills. Equally, a defeat could hobble his government and make Modi wary of bold reforms.

Leading from the front, Modi has made a bold pitch for development, bolstered by a mega Rs 1.25 lakh crore package, even as the NDA is counting on its outreach to backwards and dalits, assisted by allies, to counter the backward credentials of its rivals. Development is emerging as the main poll theme with Nitish Kumar challenging Modi’s package and coming up with a Rs 2.7 lakh crore deal for Bihar of his own.

If caste elements work the way they usually do, the Lalu-Nitish-Cong ‘secular’ alliance will have a clear edge as the backward castes put together, along with Muslims, produce an electoral arithmetic that’s hard to beat. But if Modi changes somewhat this arithmetic with his personal appeal and promise of development, the NDA would not only change the electoral pattern in Bihar, it could also bury Mandal politics – its rival axis in the Hindi heartland– at least for a while.

Primary reports from Bihar suggest that NDA has moved ahead. What’s creating this impression among observers are Modi’s political rallies– huge and enthusiastic. The youth, in particular, are said to be smitten by his way of talk on development and jobs. Even the satta bazaar odds are favouring Modi. But these initial reports as well as satta bazaar odds have been proved wrong quite often.

After Bihar polls, if NDA is beaten, it will find it very hard to cut deals with non-NDA parties like Trinamool Congress, BJD, SP and AIADMK while an emboldened Congress- despite its minimal role in the Bihar showdown- will be tempted to step up its opposition in Parliament.

At another level, the Bihar fight is a fierce combat between the competing appeals of Modi and Nitish Kumar, both of whom claim to have delivered good governance and see themselves, as leaders with appeal beyond caste lines. Modi has already managed four rallies in Bihar and his focus of attack has been Nitish whom he has dubbed as an unreliable and duplicitous leader.

Mud has been flying thick and fast with political fireworks lighting the electoral firmament ahead of the formal announcement by the election commission.

The NDA is looking to better its appeal beyond the upper castes to MBCs like Nishads and their sub-castes, other occupation-related most backwards like julahas, lonias and badhais. Here an important element of the NDA strategy is to woo the MBCs in opposition to the rival camp’s dependence on assertive OBCs like Yadavs.

With inputs from TOI

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Tea Body of Assam Slam ‘Chaiwala’ Modi

The tea labourers of Assam live in the most deplorable conditions without some of the basic amenities, Gowala said

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Assam tea body slam 'chaiwala' Modi,

The largest tea body of Assam on Sunday slammed Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who often refer to himself as a “chaiwala”, for not being considerate towards the state’s tea garden workers’ plight and urged him to implement the promised minimum wage of Rs 350 before the new year starts.

The Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangha (ACMS) General Secretary Rupesh Gowala said while Modi often refers to himself as a “chaiwala”, he is yet make good on his promises towards a million tea garden labourers in the state in the last four years.

“Before the Lok Sabha elections of 2014, Modi addressed several rallies in Assam and assured that the tea garden labourers would be paid a minimum wage of Rs 350 per day,” Gowala said.

“If this happens, the 10,00,000 tea garden labourers will lose Rs 30 each day for two months. Is it a “chaiwala” Prime Minister who is doing this to his own community?” said Gowala.

The tea garden workers in Brahmaputra Valley in Assam are presently drawing Rs 167 per day while the tea garden workers in Barak Valley are getting Rs 145 per day.

“The existing wage agreement between the Assam government and the ACMS and other tea workers bodies expired on December 31, 2017.

Narendra Modi
Narendra Modi (Wikimedia Commons)

“The government had announced an interim hike of Rs 30 per day. The tea garden labourers are supposed to get this interim hike from January 1, 2018, but the government is saying the hike will apply from March 1, 2018.

“This would make them lose Rs 30 per day for two months,” he said.

The Bharatiya Janata Party-led government in Assam is yet to fix that minimum wage, Gowala said, urging Modi to announce the promised Rs 350 per day minimum wage before 2019.

Gowala said the condition of all those tea gardens run by the Assam government was far worse.

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“While the labourers in company-owned garden are receiving a wage of Rs. 167 per day now, the 26,000 workers under the 14 gardens of state-owned Assam Tea Company Limited (ATCL) are receiving a wage of Rs 115 only per day,” he said.

Assam has over 800 medium and large size tea gardens that produces over 50 per cent of the country’s total tea produce.

The tea labourers of Assam live in the most deplorable conditions without some of the basic amenities, Gowala said. (IANS)