It is for not for nothing that Nitish Kumar was called ‘Chanankya’ of undivided Janta Dal in the early ’90s. In his present avatar too, he has mixed up a fair dose of realpolitik with his developmental plank. From the very beginning of his term he strategically targeted the vote banks of his two chief opponents in the state – Lalu Yadav (RJD) & Ramvilas Paswan (LJP).
He began by assiduously wooing the Muslim Community to break the Muslim-Yadav (MY) axis of Lalu Yadav. Apart from symbolic gestures of admitting a large number of Muslim Leaders to his party (JDU), attending Muslim festivities, drafting a Muslim bureaucrat for the critical Home Secretary position ( rarity for a BJP ruled/partnered state) etc., he also has also launched several schemes for the Muslim community (such as ‘Hunar’) and recruited ‘urdu’ teachers in bulk . He took credit for finally convicting the main accused of Bhagalpur riots of 1989 and distributing relief to its victims on the lines of Delhi 1984 Sikh riots. He has cleverly positioned himself as a ‘doer’ versus Lalu who he says, only provided ‘lip service’ to the community. His recent decision of allocating 250 acres of land for establishing a center of Aligarh Muslim University in Bihar too, has been a step in the same direction..
At the same time he also targeted the ‘Dalit’ vote bank of Ramvilas Paswan. He first broke off a large chunk of the community by branding them as ‘Maha-Dalits’ as they had not received the benefits due to them while all their benefits were being cornered by the more well off communities among Dalits. A separate “Mahadalit Vikas Mission‘ was founded under his supervision and a flood of schemes have been launched to directly target succour to this community. To add injury to salt, he has slowly expanded the ambit of ‘Mahadalits’ leaving only the ‘Paswans’ in the dalit community. This move has been greatly resented by Ramvilas Paswan who has seen his electoral fortunes dwindle.
He has even tried to neutralize Congress with his demand for a special state status for Bihar. He strategically voiced this demand just before the declaration of the results of General Parliamentary Elections, at the time when Congress was fishing for more allies. The Congress was initially sympathetic but backtracked later after they were able to cobble up a comfortable majority on their own. Nitish now periodically uses this demand as a stick to beat Congress apart from his usual lament of insufficient central assistance. He has not even spared his partners in the government – BJP. Starting off as junior partners with BJP in the undivided Bihar, he has slowly pushed them to a corner and assumed the role of big brother in the state. He also asserts his authority clearly in matters of protecting his secular credentials such as the recent land allocation to AMU.
Internally he has moved swiftly against detractors in his own party. Early dissenters like Upendra Kumar Kushwaha were promptly shown the door. ( He has recently rejoined Nitish after unsuccessfully trying his luck with NCP for past 4 years). Even the party patriarch, George Fernandis who was also the convener of NDA, was kept at bay. Fernandis was denied a Loksabha ticket on grounds of ill health, though he was later accommodated in the Rajya Sabha. Other detractors such Nagmani were thrown out or the ones like Prabhunath Singh were neutralised through election defeat.
However despite all his brilliant strategies, Nitish received a body blow in the last bye-election for 18 assembly seats in September 2009. He along with BJP could only manage to win 5 setas whereas RJD+LJP won 9 and Congress 2. This has exposed his razor thin lead in the deeply divided caste equations of Bihar. While the marginalisation of Ramvilas Paswan has pushed him firmly into the Lalu camp, the rejuvenation of Congress nationally and the decline of BJP (his partner in the state) together have the potential of stinging him badly in the next assembly elections slated for late 2010. Only saving grace for him is that there is still another year to go and if he heeds to the warning signals of the recent bye-election defeat, he can still re-work the magic next year.