With the two chief ministers Narendra Damodardas Modi of Gujarat and Nitish Kumar of Bihar virtually at daggers drawn with each other, the intervening months between now and the 16th Lok Sabha polls next year will see many political twists that will construct the unknown coalitional equation ahead of 1.27 billion Indians.
The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance is a torso of what it was a month ago. The goings-on in and out of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance are even more nebulous.
But the trump card is with neither of them. In the expanding intermediate space, other political configurations look up to Nitish Kumar and his Janata Dal (United) as the determinant even with only 20 MPs against 116 of the BJP and 203 of the Congress.
It is true that only the BJP has the potential to dislodge the UPA from power, but the impatience of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh to install Modi as the PM took the wind out of the BJP’s sails.
A new permutation of forces that is scared of communal venom but fed up with the corrupt government at the Centre is slowly building up.
Will this process-in-gestation occupy the intermediate space that may upset saffron aspirations? It is precisely here that Nitish Kumar comes in.
Modi, a sworn enemy of red-tapism, is projected as a great achiever. His admirers, however, disregard the mismatch between the growth industry and services in Gujarat.
This includes the knowledge-based sector. The GDP share of services of the state is 46% against the national share of 59%. Moreover, Gujarat’s economy is caste-based and dominated by Vaishyas of Gujarati and Rajasthani origin in contrast to Nitish Kumar’s caste-neutral development model.
This has been evident in the implementation of projects like the sub-categorisation of the OBCs or subalterns following the example of his mentor Karpoori Thakur.
Bihar is more innovative than other states in governance.
Apart from life imprisonment for about 6,000 criminals and death sentences for over 80 criminals from 2006 to 2008, Nitish Kumar introduced two enactments that were inconceivable even by the late Jyoti Basu during his 22-year-tenure as the CM of West Bengal.
One is the Special Court Act, 2008 empowering the state to forfeit the assets of any public servant, proved to possess disproportionate assets and the forfeitable assets used for schools.
The other is the Right to Service Act, 2011 that ensures the issuance of caste, character, medical, or birth or death certificates and passports within stipulated deadlines, failing which the concerned official will be financially penalised with the fine to be deducted from the official’s salary.
Only a few political commentators appreciated these path-breaking steps. Nitish is committed to the ways of Jayaprakash Narayan, the lodestar, unlike those who participated or emerged during the JP movement but dumped the Loknayak later.
It is not that Nitish Kumar tries to reach out to the subalterns.
Bihar’s literacy rate at 63.08% is behind the national rate of 74.04%. He is yet to combat the uncertainty of 10 million people trapped between the two embankments of River Kosi.
He is yet to explain why the D Bandyopadhyay report on land reforms has been shelved.
Nonetheless, Nitish Kumar reminds us of Lenin’s pamphlet Better Fewer, But Better. It’s quality and not quantity that may be determinant in the run-up to the 16th parliamentary election next year.
Sankar Ray is Kolkata-based writer.
The views expressed by the author are personal.