Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has once again shown that a leader who takes initiatives, need not fear about failure. The much-sought after AIIMS in Patna was inaugurated on Tuesday, adding a new feather to Nitish's crown. The state, which was once considered one of the most backward in the country, has grabbed attention today for all right reasons.
Nitish has backed his state's cause
Till 2005, the story of Bihar was marked by pessimism but ever since the JD(U) came to power towards the end of that year replacing the RJD-led by Lalu Prasad, the scenario has changed. One of the biggest contribution of Nitish Kumar has been his emphasis on winning investors' confidence for which he worked on the state's infrastructure, which was in a shambles. The state's power situation has improved so much so that experts even advise hydro-power rich states like Uttarakhand to learn a lesson or two from Nitish's Bihar. The Bihar CM has also ensured holding of people's courts on a regular basis and the initiative proved to be a popular one.
The idea of distributing bicycles to boost female literacy in the state has been a welcome move. The western media and even Pakistan's cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan have praised Nitish for giving good governance and his stress on development. The growth rate of the state is among the fastest under Nitish Kumar and last year Bihar's agriculture sector saw a growth rate of 19.7%, something which impressed the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) so much that it wanted to discuss the eBihar model in key sectors like agriculture and employment throughout the country.
According one report, Bihar's Gross State Domestic Product rose from 4.42% in 1999-2000 to 11.36% between 2005-11. It registered itself as the fastest growing state in 2011 (at 13.1%) and was ahead of Delhi and Puducherry. Its economy was bigger than Punjab and given a much lower base than states like Gujarat or Tamil Nadu, Bihar's success story was all the more exciting.
Nitish Kumar has particularly stressed improvement of road communication, construction and law and order situation in the state. While improvement in the law and order situation has encouraged the urban rich and middle-class to flaunt their consumerist tastes, improvement in agriculture productivity, communication and stress on education, health and livelihood has given a boost to the rural lifestyle and economy. According to one report, Bihar has a fast-growing market for tractors. Nitish Kumar's prioritisation of improving the human development index has nullified the anti-incumbency factor.
Nitish Kumar's astute politics has helped him reap benefits
Nitish Kumar's astuteness can be understood from the fact that he has managed to balance the vote-banks of his 'secular' JD(U) and the 'communal' BJP, his ally in the NDA even while he succeeded to woo the backward castes and Muslim sections and the mahadalits. He never mentioned castes during his election campaign speeches and instead maintained a focus on the development of his 'new Bihar'.
Recently, when most parties were speaking against the UPA government's decision to allow FDI in retail and hiking diesel prices, Nitish made an interesting announcement that whoever granted Bihar a special status, would find a supporter in him. Although, he later opposed FDI in Bihar, but his initial declaration was significant. It showed that Nitish Kumar, before anything else, is bothered about his state's interest.
But that is not to say that Nitish himself is not politically ambitious. His open opposition to Gujarat CM Narendra Modi on various issues like returning flood relief funds or disagreeing to accept Modi as the NDA's prime ministerial candidate proves that the Bihar CM is keen to establish himself as an alternative choice for the top position. The BJP, which leads a shrinking alliance, can not afford to dump Nitish Kumar for such a move will wash off the saffron party from the eastern part of the country.
A non-Cong, non-BJP leader who means business
Nitish Kumar knows that he can go for the bigger prize for he has strengthened his base all these years. His biggest advantage is his non-Congress, non-BJP tag. Not many Congress ministers in the country (excepting a Sheila Dixit) are able to show individual brilliance for they are too much tied from above. And in case of the BJP, the party's top leadership is so brittle that individuals can take the party for a ride as per their convenience.
It is difficult for any BJP CM (most of them are second-string leaders except Narendra Modi) to hog the limelight for good reasons for it is mainly the top leaders who get all focus for bad reasons. Nitish Kumar does not have any such baggage to carry and can chart his own course without any hassle.
But do all leaders act like him?
But saying that, it is not that all independent leaders has delivered from the word go. In the neighbouring state of West Bengal, we have another leader who is also an independent leader. Yes, we are talking about Mamata Banerjee. The firebrand leader, who fought against the Left Front and even formed her own party because she lost trust on the Congress's abilities to topple the Left, has not succeeded in carrying out any planned reforms in her state after the Left's exit.
Mamata is more busy in squabble than backing her state
West Bengal's law and order problem has deteriorated sharply in last one-and-half years, the HDI is in a precarious state thanks to the misrule of the communists which saw sectors like education, health and general service being left in a shambles. The plan to set up an AIIMS in West Bengal hit a wall after it turned into an ego battle between two women, namely, Deepa Das Munshi, the wife of former Congress MP who had envisioned such an institute at his place Raiganj and Mamata, who wants to shift it elsewhere.
The Nitish Kumar government had faced criticism from the Opposition after the crime rates had increased in Bihar during its first year in office, but the CM admitted that it was indeed a big challenge. While in West Bengal, we often see the CM brushing aside rape cases as 'conspiracy' to undermine her government. She is found attacking the Left even when the latter is virtually erased.
BJP's partner Nitish plays development card, 'secular' Mamata busy appeasing minorities
While Nitish Kumar plays the development card to cover caste politics, Mamata is inclined to communalise the politics in Bengal. Her policy is to make a pre-emptive strike against the so-called communal elements. Imposing a ban on public meeting and speaking by Uma Bharati during her Ganga samagra Yatra is a case in point.
In terms of economy, Bihar's growth story has effected a reverse trend in migration. All those workers and labourers who earlier migrated to the western parts of the country feel encouraged to return to their state and if this movement really gains steam, the local economy in states like Maharashtra will undoubtedly take a beating besides giving a blow to the Thackerays' brand of hate politics.
However, in case of Bengal, the outward push among the labourers is significant largely because of the fact that the state has not seen either agricultural or industrial growth for a long period. Young men are fleeing the state to far-off places like Kerala while women are being traded off after being promised jobs to fight poverty.
How to build a base? Mamata should learn from Nitish
Certain sections of the media are claiming that by pulling out of the Centre, Mamata Banerjee is getting ready for an alternative route to reach and conquer Delhi. I don't know where will that route lead to, if at all it is there, for Didi has hardly tried to prepare her base like an articulate politician like Nitish Kumar who first worked for his own state before giving wings to his individual aspirations. Prioritisation clearly separates Mamata from Nitish.