Nitish Kumar is seeking to champion politics of a different kind – economic victimhood and a supposed historical hurt. Going by the number of people he led to Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi and the enthusiasm they displayed during the public rally, the Bihar Chief Minister has by all accounts been successful in his first show of strength in national Capital.
The fallout could be that it sowed seeds of a potential realignment of political forces in 2014. The Congress will now have reason to look at him with greater hope, while the BJP can no longer take its original ally and co-founder of the opposition alliance NDA, for granted.
His message was simple, for now he didn’t aspire to be the King in Delhi but he certainly would play the kingmaker in 2014, even if the king to be was not from his present alliance. Mark Nitish’s words: “Only he can reign in Delhi who feels for the backward states and poor people. One who can take everyone along….. Hindustan should be one, not divided between India and Bharat.” While making these statements he sounded like an unattached politician who was bargaining for his position and his share of power at the centre than the second biggest partner of the NDA. Though the BJP has already supported his demand for special status to Bihar, it did not matter to him, at least at this stage.
By referring to the ‘one who must have reigns of Delhi must be one who can take everyone along’ is an indirect indictment of BJP’s undeclared Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi. Though he did not take any names, his remarks on Bihar pursuing the path of inclusive growth across development indices is again seen as an attack on Modi. “We will leave everyone behind and move ahead with development. And we will present a model before the world. These days development model is being discussed. This model is what takes along everyone together. This is the real development model of India,” the Chief Minister said, in an apparent reference to the ‘Gujarat model’.
Nitish’s remarks are significant if seen in the context that only twelve hours ago Narendra Modi spoke at length in Delhi on how “Namo-mantra” could be replicated in India. If Modi presented an alternate governance model and spoke of his vision of how India should be, Nitish’s theme made broad references to the upliftment of backward regions for inclusive growth, which could come only if the centre revised the criteria of special status states. If Modi’s narrative was around the prosperity of the Gujarat, Nitish’s narrative listed the reasons for backwardness in Bihar. Like Modi, Nitish is also playing on sub nationalism— Bihari pride woven around a sense of victimhood, charging people of Bihar to fight it out with the union government and take what “they deserved”.
But unlike thosw who love to challenge Delhi and proclaim that they could do well even with their hostility, Nitish is seeking a friendly Delhi that could help fulfill aspirations of Biharis.
For once he was not critical of the Congress. He praised Finance Minister P Chidambaram with a rider, that mere words of revising the criteria would not do, it was time for further action, “show it came from the heart and was not a farcical announcement.”
By proclaiming that he was not speaking only for Bihar but was also advocating for the other backward states, it is apparent that he is also trying to form a new political front with West Bengal chief minister Mamta Banerjee and Odisha chief minister Navin Patnaik, the two other states which could send good number of MPs to Lok Sabha in the next elections.
A wily politician like Nitish would not be making repeated references to 2014 without reason. “The centre will have to award special status to Bihar. If not now then in 2014. Be focused while voting in 2014. Those at the helm in Delhi should note that if strength of all backward regions unite, then who else could have the balance of power.”
Though he is selling backwardness for perceived greater goods in the future, he is linking development as the natural right of the people, which could come only though special nourishment of the Centre. His political rivals in Bihar, the LJP and RJD call it an unrealistic demand. But then Nitish Kumar needs a punching bag, a perceived enemy which can be blamed for the ills of Bihar, something that prevented him from living upto aspirations of people of Bihar whose second mandate to him was historic. Jobs are not coming and the changes, Sadak, Siksha and Swasthya (roads, education and hospital) that were visible in his first term have stagnated in his second term. People need qualitative changes in education and health. Teachers and doctors coming to schools and hospitals are not enough, they now want more than the basics. Nitish knows he has a most difficult task ahead. Unfulfilled popular aspirations can take an unhealthy turn, even if fear of Lalu Prasad Yadav’s return to power may keep him in power.
Taking the demand for a special state to an emotional plane, is one such move which he believes could yet again give him support cutting across caste, creed and religion.