The tussle between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar is making for compelling theatre, one that promises to transfix Indian audiences till a new government is formed in November in the state.
The two leaders exchanged greetings on Tuesday when Mr Kumar received the PM at Patna airport but both went on to furiously criticise each other later as part of the election campaign.
The campaign so far has been about the believability of both leaders, with the PM presenting himself as the national figure who will deliver for Bihar and Mr Kumar as the feisty, honest reformer who will continue with improvements he has brought about as chief minister.
Mr Kumar has argued that Mr Modi has not fulfilled any of his promises to Bihar, while the BJP narrative has centred on questioning Mr Kumar’s record as chief minister and suggesting that a vote for the latter entails the return of former chief minister Lalu Prasad, since the two have an alliance along with the Congress.
In an effort to implicitly underline that he has the power to address the state’s concerns, Mr Modi announced a Rs 1,25,003 crore financial package for Bihar.
The package is a combination of spending previously allocated by the Centre along with new projects that are mainly focused on infrastructure.
Rural roads and highways have got a major share of Rs68,533 crore with other significant spends on village electrification, improving railway capacity, expanding Barauni’s refinery, upgrading an agricultural university and building new LPG plants.
The big unknown is if the financial package will yield political dividends for the BJP. The UPA experience suggests that massive infusions of spending need not translate into electoral support.
Given that the spending on Bihar will be spread over a few years, its details are likely to be intensely debated. In an interaction with editors at HT, Mr Kumar was emphatic that there was “little clarity” in the PM’s promises and argued that some elements in the package were six years old.
He was confident of strides in countering crime, saying no one in Bihar is afraid anymore of travelling at night.
AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal has reportedly decided to back Mr Kumar, in a sign that the Opposition sees the Bihar polls as having a symbolic import for national politics.
Amid caste alliances, coalition dynamics, modernising rhetoric and personality clashes, few know what the next few weeks will bring, let alone discerning the outcome.