Mahagathbandhan wins Bihar and Nitish Kumar is all set to form the next government. Winning 178 seats against NDA’s 58 was by no means easy, especially in the backdrop of a highly polarized campaign, where the political discourse often stooped to low levels from all sides.
Political challenges ahead
Winning the elections was the easier part for Nitish Kumar, the real battle starts now and will carry on for the next five years. This term is going to be his toughest test yet and Nitish Kumar will have to draw upon years of administrative acumen and back it up with some deft political balancing, in order to carry on the ‘development’ agenda he so assiduously pursued in his previous terms.
When he launched the Mahagathbandhan seeking Lalu Prasad’s support, he knew fully well that he ran the risk of having him as a mill-stone around his neck. But with JD(U) winning only 71 seats to RJD’s 80, he will now have Lalu holding the Damocles Sword through all his five years in office. With Lalu emerging as the senior partner in the Mahagathbandhan, he is certain to demand his share of power. In other words, Lalu will be to Nitish what Sonia was to Manmohan Singh. And that’s the price to pay when you take office on a weaker ground.
The battle for one-upmanship has already started with the debate on the composition of the new Cabinet. Lalu in all probability will push for one of his son’s as a Deputy Chief Minister. If this happens, Bihar will be starting another tragedy akin to Rabri Devi being put on the throne, in what was a total mockery of democracy. True, Lalu’s sons won but do they deserve to be put in such an important position or hold an important portfolio? Absolutely no. And if Nitish holds firm and doesn’t give in, he then starts off his government on a sour note. Either ways, Bihar is set to lose.
So can Nitish overcome an overbearing Lalu?
Yes. Surprisingly, Nitish is in a sweet spot to emerge the hero, no matter what happens. Through this tenure, if Lalu becomes an obstructionist to Nitish Kumar and threatens to pull down the government, Nitish can always look at seeking BJP’s support to prop his government. BJP has lost Bihar and given an opportunity, it will have no choice but to grab the opportunity, as it needs Bihar for its Rajya Sabha battles ahead. Nitish Kumar has more in common with BJP than with Lalu’s RJD, and both Nitish and BJP, realize that.
Although highly unlikely, were this to ever happen in future, Nitish Kumar will emerge as a victim to Lalu’s machinations and may still come out a winner. If Nitish were to ever turn to BJP, the Congress will walk out of the coalition but between JD(U) and NDA’s seats, it would not matter.
Lalu Prasad is a wily politician and knows his limitations under the circumstances. For sure, he will push Nitish to a hard bargain but will stop short of pushing him over to an eager BJP. How this tango proceeds will be interesting to watch.
Tasks ahead for Nitish Kumar
Nitish Kumar has to hit the ground running as Bihar has a lot of catching up to do.
Build bridges with the centre
Nitish will do well not to follow Arvind Kejriwal’s example of taking a confrontationist stance with the centre. Bihar needs the promised central package of Rs 1.65 lakh crore and therefore, it must build a pro-active and healthy relation with the centre. The Congress will have their own agenda of opposing the central government in all forums, especially the Rajya Sabha, but Nitish Kumar will do well to temper down and take a more balanced approach to issues, as they come up.
Focus on education and social upliftment
With 80% of the population in Bihar and living in rural areas and close to poverty, Nitish Kumar has to renew focus on education and social upliftment through various central and state schemes. In the short term, social security schemes will go a long way, including an effective MNREGA at the state level, but in the long term, education is the only way out of poverty and social exploitation.
The youth of Bihar is starved for good quality education from school to higher technical education and Nitish Kumar must engage with the private sector to invest in the state’s school, college and in higher technical education. There is a large Bihari diaspora overseas who are willing to come back and invest in the state. Nitish Kumar must tap into this, along with promised funds that the state should get from the centre and give this sector a priority push.
Bihar needs industry and agricultural modernization
Nitish Kumar needs to rejuvenate traditional industry as most of Bihar’s working population lives in the rural area and are engaged in traditional industries like handloom, pottery, handicrafts etc. These people need working capital and funds to modernize and they also need newer avenues and markets to give this sector a boost. This is where the Bihari diaspora can prove very useful.
Bihar’s agricultural potential is vastly underutilized. Due to its location, Bihar has bountiful rains and therefore very fertile soil. Lack of proper rural roads, lack of electricity, lack of cold and non-cold storage facilities and lack of food processing industries, all contribute to Bihar’s relatively low per capita realization. Nitish Kumar has vastly improved the rural electrification network and must improve flood control mechanisms in the state.
If it succeeds in improving the per capita realization of the farmer, Bihar can outpace most economic metrics of leading states in India. Nitish Kumar needs to bring about a revolution in this sector which will guarantee his next term.
The state needs urgent investment in infrastructure, medical services, industry, housing, IT and policing. But if Nitish Kumar can focus on the above mentioned sectors in the next three years of his term, Bihar will be on course for the much talked about ‘development’.