Odds stacked against Bihar chief

Odds stacked against Bihar chief

In the village of Darveshpura in Nalanda, residents used to have to wade through chest-deep floodwater or take a 100km detour to reach the nearest town during the rainy season.

But three years ago, a bridge was built over the river Sakri. Power lines followed, and now a health centre painted in pink stands out amid the villagers' brown huts. More classes, at higher levels, are being added to the local school.

Yet, despite all the visible signs of development credited to Mr Nitish Kumar, Bihar's chief minister and leader of the Janata Dal (United), most people in this village of some 200 households are likely to vote for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi.

"Nitish has done good work but we hear of a Modi hawa (wave)," said farmer Shravan Kumar, alluding to the BJP leader's national popularity that has reached even this little corner of Bihar.

Mr Kumar the farmer chafes at widespread corruption as something that the chief minister has failed to tackle.

What's more, he added : "He is giving many more subsidies to the lower castes."

The complaints are reflective of the views of many of his fellow villagers, who are largely from the upper caste, a traditional support base of the BJP.

They also shed light on how caste remains a potent factor in India's national politics despite various modernising influences.

Much has also been said in the election campaign about good governance and capable leadership, but in the case of Mr Nitish Kumar, being able to tick those boxes is clearly not enough.

Since coming to power in 2005, the Janata Dal (United) politician has changed the face of Bihar, at one time a byword for crime and where kidnappings were once referred to as its biggest industry.

He cracked down on criminal gangs, built a network of roads, improved health care and introduced schemes such as free bicycles for girls as part of his education and gender equality reforms.

Economic growth rose to about 11 per cent from a measly 3 per cent before he came to power.

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