No one can be more aware than Bihar’s new chief minister Nitish Kumar that winning what was a bitterly fought election is only the beginning of a challenging task of governance.
Had it not been for the Rashtriya Janata Dal’s (RJD)’s massive infusion of 80 seats, his assumption of office for a fifth time could not have been possible. While Mr Kumar has consistently pushed the development plank to great benefit for people in his state, the RJD chief Lalu Prasad is a different kettle of fish altogether. He has come out of a long stint of political isolation.
While his once famed style of politics, laced with earthy humour, did not have people rolling in the aisles, people appeared in a mood to forgive his past transgressions for the moment. The BJP’s negative campaign also helped both Mr Kumar and Mr Prasad in substantial measure. Both his sons, freshly minted from the assembly elections, have found a place in Mr Kumar’s cabinet, one as deputy chief minister.
Mr Prasad makes no bones about his penchant for dynastic politics. When faced with political pressure for his alleged involvement in the fodder scam in 1997, he stepped down as chief minister but only to appoint his wife as his proxy.
Now barred by the courts from contesting elections for a good long time, the RJD leader is focusing all his energies on his family, in direct variance with the sort of politics practised by Mr Kumar whose family is very much out of public view.
Mr Prasad’s rule in Bihar was associated with cronyism and a jungle raj. Mr Kumar has cleaned all that up to a considerable extent and Bihar has become not only safer but also an attractive investment destination.
What he will have to guard against is demands by Mr Prasad for favours to his family and partymen. Mr Kumar is in a difficult position here since he owes his position to Mr Prasad’s numbers. It will require considerable political expertise on Mr Kumar’s part to balance these potential political demands and the development that the people seem to crave.
The people have given the RJD a new lease of life but it is quite clear that the old grace-and-favour politics it practised has been rejected.
Mr Kumar should be clear that it is not just caste politics which saw him through, it is also the fact that he is seen as the man who is most likely to represent an aspirational and young Bihar. Already, there have been some communal clashes in the state.
Mr Kumar must act swiftly against such forces and not allow them to gain any ground whatsoever. He will also have to convince the RJD members of his cabinet, notable among them Mr Prasad’s sons, to embrace a progressive, inclusive politics.
It will not prove easy as long as Mr Prasad holds sway over his partymen, but that is the only way forward for Bihar.