Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar broke from his former alliance partners because he felt a sense of unease about the drift of the overall law and order situation, as if Bihar was losing focus. I have known Nitish Kumar for a reasonable length of time to know that he has a unique political sense. He could not have tolerated this sense of drift to carry on for much longer.
Perhaps he misjudged prime minister Narendra Modi, when he walked out of the NDA in 2013 after 17 long years, and didn’t think he would emerge as a major political leader.
Nitish’s unique traits are the dream of a top class bureaucrat. He is a respecter of rules and processes. His focus is quite extraordinary, as is his attention to detail. I am quite struck by the congruence of qualities in Nitish Kumar and prime minister Modi, in that they are both focused on development, and are deeply interested in the use of technology to pursue development and foster per capita growth. They both pay quite a bit of attention to law and order and security. Nitish Kumar’s resignation and consequent joining hands with the BJP is the best thing that could have happened to Bihar recently.
With Nitish, unfortunately, timing has always been a problem. When he was with the NDA until 2013, he was always getting stymied by the UPA which ran the government in Delhi at the time; it wasn’t that friendly to him. Also, RJD leader Lalu Prasad Yadav was always trying to block Nitish’s schemes and projects. There was a mismatch between initiative and response.
Then there was a change of government at the centre in 2014 and the BJP came to power. But Nitish had already left the NDA the previous year, which meant that there was asymmetry again.
Today, both the state and the Centre are on the same page. This most important aspect of this much greater symmetry is that it will impact enormously on investor confidence.
If you look at long-term time series data, you will see that in the early years when Lalu Yadav was chief minister, there was substantial haemorrhaging of middle-class talent which ended up leaving Bihar. This was repaired considerably when Nitish came to power. But he always remained constrained by the fact that the central government was not supportive.
All through these years, including the time the Congress party was enamoured of him, Nitish Kumar had one dream that Bihar should get special category status.
Yes, it is true that he parted company with the NDA and with Mr Modi in dramatic fashion in 2013, but in hindsight you could say that this was not the best thing for Bihar’s interest. Working with Lalu Yadav meant that both his development focus as well as his financial rectitude were under threat.
But now that Nitish Kumar has joined hands with the BJP, let me say, frankly, this is very good for the BJP, as the party consolidates its position in a part of the country in which it hadn’t done well recently, for example in the 2015 Assembly election. This move will definitely have an impact on the East India circuit-board and is a huge plus for the BJP in enlarging its reach in that part of the country.
What has happened is a tectonic shift in Indian politics. Who remembers, except in a jocular fashion, the phrase “suit-boot ki sarkar” anymore?
Everyone said Bihar would never get rid of Lalu and Rabri, but this coming back together of Nitish Kumar and the BJP is a dream combination. This is not déjà vu, but a full circle.
The reach and acceptability of the BJP as a pan-Indian party under Narendra Modi is quite extraordinary. It has a national and international footprint quite like never before, especially if you compare it with the traditional notion of what the BJP is.
It is true that when Nitish Kumar walked out of the NDA he accused the BJP of many things, including communalism, but the truth is that electoral victories are an alchemy of different ingredients. Nitish Kumar recognizes that the only thing that breaks social stratification in caste and class barriers is development.
At the time in 2013, perhaps, he felt that he needed to underline his electoral attractiveness with an alchemy of caste and minorities, like Muslims. (While Lalu Yadav, typically, attracts better-off Muslims, Nitish Kumar is focused on much poorer Muslim castes.) He is clearly exceedingly sagacious in recognizing that to realize the future he cannot become hostage to the past.
In order not to get his image dented and corroded, Nitish Kumar must not allow this opportunity to be wasted. He must realign himself with that part of the ruling coalition which will in turn boost the psychological impact of investor confidence.
As for the RJD-Congress opposition, let me give you the answer that Nitish Kumar has already given : The Opposition needs to reinvent, reposition and restructure itself, not merely become reactive. It needs to go beyond a negative narrative to respond to the growing aspirations of a people waiting to leapfrog into the 21st century.
(As told to Jyoti Malhotra)