“Itihas is bat ka gawah hai ki Bihar ne hamesha India ko rasta dikhya” This was one of the catchlines of Nitish Kumar as he went to every nook and corner of the state, seeking people’s verdict on his five-year tenurue.
Harking back to the past, to those great days when Nalanda was a seat of ancient learning, Nitish tried to nudge the Bihar pride, crushed and trampled during fifteen years of the Lalu-Rabri raj when every Bihari was seen as a ‘law-breaker’ and Bihar became a subject of ridicule and contempt.
“We will regain our lost glory. Bihar is showing the way to the nation again. We are the first state to introduce 50 per cent reservation to women in Panchayats. Kerala has just followed it and others states are also doing it,” Nitish told voters in his election meetings, raising cheers and applauds.
Nitish may have treated his Gujarat counterpart Narendra Modi as a person non grata during Bihar campaign, but the fact remains that just like Modi, he too was trying to submerge all other identities—caste, communal and social—under an overarching identity. Just like Modi always talked “five crore Gujarat ki janata,” Nitish also tried to tell people of Bihar to assert their regional identity. The trend that two Chief Ministers have set may have a major bearing on national politics in the coming days.
Poll pundits would continue to debate the reasons behind the JD(U)-BJP alliance’s stupendous victory and rout of Lalu-Paswan duo and the way voters of Bihar dealt a shattering blow to Congress prince Rahul Gandhi’s image and doled out an all-time low tally to a party that ruled Bihar for more than three decades, but there is no ‘mystery’ or ‘rahasya’, as claimed by Lalu and Paswan, but the victory is endorsement of the ‘development’ politics that is beginning to take firm root in the country.
Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa have unequivocally shown that Indian people are now rising over caste and communal divide, idea and ideologies, and casting their lot behind a party or alliance that is committed to serve them. And one should keep the fact in mind that Nitish Kumar’s victory has also shown that the voters don’t want freebies or subsidies, but if you can deliver on common minimum programme they would repose their faith in you.
Nitish has also proved that more than anything ‘image’ makes the biggest difference in politics. In sharp contrast to Lalu Prasad, Nitish has cultivated an image of being honest, hard working, committed and pragmatic leader who was seen as a harbinger of hope.
Of course, there were those who attacked him for carrying forward Lalu’s legacy of caste politics by creating Mahadaltis and filling up police and bureaucratic posts with his caste men and other backward castes, but Nitish made sure that even if he protected his political interest, by keeping on the right side of the quality of administration was never compromised.
Someone returning to Bihar after a gap of five years will be shocked. In place of dilapidated buildings, pot-holed roads, deserted markets and depressed people, here is state with smooth roads, busy shops and markets, visible signs of economic turnaround, and talks of hope and future. It sounds like as if Nitish has somehow used a magical wand to transform the state. But behind the changes that have taken place in the state during the last five years is serious person who works round the clock, a workaholic of sorts, who has emerged as icon of development politics in India.
Nitish brand of development is both inclusive and far-reaching. The roads are for everyone, the hospitals are for everyone and schools for everyone. There is no discrimination or preference. Bicycles are given free to middle-school girls cutting across caste lines and there was no quota system in appointments of thousands of teachers. Though, he kept making the right noises to project himself as a leader of the intermediary backward castes and suppressed dalits as well as pasmanda Muslims, Nitish did not lose either of the fact that Bihar needed development, and development alone could bring him back to power.
The task before Nitish Kumar is unenviable. People’s aspiration has been aroused beyond reasonable expectations; Nitish will really need the magical wand to prevent the voters from turning disillusioned with him. For that reasons, he never made big promises during his campaigns, which remained focussed on power, education, and corruption.
Nitish is likely to embark on a major drive against corruption in his second stint as Chief Minister. His government is likely to keep a close eye on the quality of work and ensure that people don’t have to grease the palms of officials in police even for their genuine works. This is one area where his government has failed to change the culture of Bihar. In fact, bribe culture has gone on because of more fund flow from the government.
Also, the government will have to take some steps to control liquor availability across the state. With liquor shops mushrooming at panchyat and block levels, the government has been criticised of encouraging people to forget their worries in drinking.
Politically, Nitish faced the challenge of keeping his parliamentary party united in the face of rebellion by seven to eight MPs who actively campaigned against the party candidates in the assembly polls.
Perhaps, that is one area Nitish may have to do re-thinking. He may have to talk to his party men and leaders why the Janata Dal (U) is always plagued with internal crisis. His style of functioning, where he has been accused of acting arbitrarily, has been the bone of contention for his MLAs and MPs. Somehow the message has gone that political class has no say in running the government and the bureaucrats are calling the shots. This is one of the reasons for the perennial discontent in the party because leaders feel they are helpless before the ‘babus’ and can’t get even genuine works of their constituency done.
Bihar has shown the way to the nation again, and, in the process, placed an enormous responsibility on Nitish Kumar. And Nitish delivers this time around. Someday he could surely dream to occupy the highest chair in the county’s alliance politics.
By Naveen Jha from Patna