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In run-up to 2024, it may seem Opposition has added numbers in Bihar but Nitish will need to work harder to stitch a shared story

Nitish's resignation as chief minister, his march to Raj Bhawan alongwith Tejashwi Yadav, his staking of claim to form another government, inaugurates a new chapter that is likely to resonate as much outside Bihar as inside it.

A JD(U)-RJD alliance has taken on the BJP once before -- the Mahagathbandhan romped home in the 2015 polls.

Nitish Kumar has switched sides yet again. With that quick and easy indictment out of the way, look again, at a complex and bristling story. It’s a story about Bihar, a fertile state known for its backwardness, and also for being the crucible for social and political movements that reverberate through the country. It’s a story of a leader who played a historic role in braiding the agenda of social justice with the language and infrastructure of development — in Bihar, the cleavage and even outright antagonism between “samajik nyaya” and “vikas” had been the unfortunate left-over of Lalu Prasad’s 15-year rule which gave the backward castes a political voice. But the leader who scripted “Nootan Bihar” where “sushasan (good governance)” was given its due place remained, despite his great achievements, afraid to go it alone. And at some point, his asserting and writhing in the alliances he struck with others overshadowed his plateauing governance story. Nitish’s latest about-turn, walking out of the alliance with the BJP after walking back into it in 2017, after walking out of it, 17 years on, in 2013, also comes at a time when a larger story is unfolding — in the national Opposition space, to break the prolonged standstill in the time of Modi.

Nitish’s resignation as chief minister, his march to Raj Bhawan alongwith Tejashwi Yadav, his staking of claim to form another government, inaugurates a new chapter that is likely to resonate as much outside Bihar as inside it. With the next parliamentary election only two years away, and with Bihar still the north Indian state where the BJP has considerable scope to grow, unlike in next-door UP, where it has all but peaked, what happens in Patna could well be crucial for what happens in Delhi. Nitish’s reputation and legacy so far, despite his stop-start equations with the BJP and RJD, and in spite of the signs of his government running of ideas, manifested in the ham-handed enforcement of prohibition, rest on several past laurels – the bicycle scheme for girls, the small initiative that wreaked large change; reservation in Panchayat bodies for women and for Extremely Backward Castes (which had been relegated by the dominant groups among OBCs); the building of roads in a state where travelling time between point A and B depended on hours taken, not distance in km; the improvements in law and order; and, overall, the restoring of the authority of the state. In Nitish raj, the wheels of social justice turned further, included groups that had still remained excluded in Lalu raj, and large sections, especially of the weak and vulnerable, felt touched by the state.

A JD(U)-RJD alliance has taken on the BJP once before — the Mahagathbandhan romped home in the 2015 polls. But the BJP, in Bihar, as elsewhere, is constantly learning, evolving and strategising to conquer. The Modi model is layered and it is making deeper inroads, using social engineering where it must, the delivery scheme where it can, and the powerful idea of Hindutva everywhere. In the run-up to 2024, then, it may seem that the Opposition has added weight in terms of numbers in Bihar. But it will need to work much harder to stitch a shared story that speaks to the people and lifts it off the ground.

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First published on: 09-08-2022 at 08:08:18 pm
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