Nitish-Lalu chemistry will be vital to new Bihar govt’s success
The Nitish Kumar-Lalu Prasad chemistry will play a vital role in the success of the new government in Bihar writes Neerja ChowdhuryUpdated: Nov 20, 2015 01:37 IST
It was in 1979 that I first come across the abject poverty of the Musahars in Bihar, while studying how the Jayaprakash Narayan-initiated Chhatra Yuva Sangharsh Vahini was organising them to fight for land in Gaya. What stayed with me was the look in their eyes — a dullness and hopelessness, even as they generously served me a few drops of oil with a roti and salt as I was their guest.
A few weeks ago, when I went back to the Musahar tolas during the campaign for the recent assembly polls, to see the Jitan Ram Manjhi impact, I found how little had changed.
Nitish Kumar, who today takes over as chief minister for the third time, has his task cut out — to provide economic content to social democracy, as large swathes of Musahars, other Mahadalits, the Extremely Backward Castes, Other Backward Castes and women decided to repose their trust in him.
In the last 10 years, he has tried to create a bottom-up model of development, with efforts focused on not only roads and power, but also on girls’ cycles rather than glittering malls. Kumar is a natural administrator but his job was made easier by the rapport he shared with the BJP.
Can he evolve a similar ‘tuning’ with Lalu Prasad, who has bounced back in an unprecedented fashion? Interference in the day-to-day administration can be a matter of concern and two power centres can create havoc for any government.
Small wonder then that the politically savvy Prasad has indicated that while Kumar will concentrate on Bihar, he would try and unite the anti-Modi forces at the national level. He also knows that if he makes the going tough for Kumar, the CM could turn towards the BJP for support. The BJP may not be averse to it as this might neutralise Kumar for 2019. The stakes are as high for Prasad and Kumar, and this might be Prasad’s last chance to undo the ‘jungle raj’ taint.
However, it would be naïve to think that the 80-MLA RJD will not demand its say in government. Power-sharing will remain the name of the game, but it’s the Nitish-Lalu chemistry that will determine the success of the government.
Can Kumar, with his administrative acumen, clean image and popularity, become the pole of an alternative politics nationally? Much will depend on whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi is able to move towards a more consensual politics, the ground-level shifts and the performance of the regional chieftains in the state elections over the next few years.
While it is early days even to ask this question, the guest list at today’s swearing-in ceremony may provide some clues. Out of the nine chief ministers coming, a majority are from the Congress-ruled states, showing Rahul Gandhi’s backing for Kumar, though it is also an attempt to signal a ‘we are back’ in Bihar. Kumar has invited his potential allies like Mamata Banerjee, Arvind Kejriwal, and the Abdullahs, and the BJP’s marginalised seniors such as LK Advani, Arun Shourie and Shatrughan Sinha. This shows that he may not expect political realignments in the future to take a conventional secular-vs-communal trajectory, but move more on the Modi-vs-non-Modi lines. He has, however, been savvy enough to issue an invitation to Modi, knowing that the state has to work with the Centre.
But for the moment, Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad are stars born anew on the Indian political horizon.
Neerja Chowdhury is a senior journalistThe views expressed are personal
First Published: Nov 20, 2015 01:33 IST