He shows,yet again,that it is easier to work with aspiration than resentment
Jai Bihar. Jai Maharashtra. Jai Hind. Nitish Kumars Bihar Divas speech in Mumbai was a remarkable counter to the agitated Marathi-versus-Bihari rhetoric that preceded his visit. Raj Thackerays MNS had rattled its sabre,threatening to disrupt the event. There was no trace of that tension in Nitishs address. Instead,he reset the discourse,to point out the mutuality and shared stakes between Bihar and Maharashtra. In the aftermath,the MNSs silence is telling.
In a city where groups like the MNS and Shiv Sena base their politics entirely on nativist belligerence,where Marathi pride is massaged by casting out and harassing hardworking migrants from UP and Bihar,Nitishs approach was rare and soothing. To begin with,he spoke in Marathi disarming the crowd,undercutting the idea that the interests of one were inevitably in opposition to the other. Just as Bihari settlers bring grit and resourcefulness to Mumbai,Maharashtra could bring investment and ideas to Bihar. He stressed a progressive tradition that linked Bihar and Maharashtra,of social reformers and thinkers. He deftly name-checked Ambedkar and Jyotiba Phule,and put himself on the side of their larger,liberal vision.
Nitishs event,with its emphasis on a hybrid culture,a negotiated urban citizenship and the bigger national picture,may have been as strategic an exercise as Thackerays fighting words. Both are attempts at self-positioning,at working to their constituencies. And yet,Nitish Kumar came out of this event appearing to have both won the argument and made everyone feel good. Momentarily,at least,he produced the elevation effect,that mysterious goad that mobilises people by appealing to their better instincts,and showed how much easier it is to work with aspiration than resentment.