makes Nitish Kumar special
The Bihar outcome has confirmed the
pre-poll conventional wisdom about Nitish Kumar's victory based on
his successes on the development and law-and-order fronts. But
what makes the chief minister stand out from his other
In the season of scams when
political reputations are at their lowest ebb, Bihar Chief
Minister Nitish Kumar stands out as a remarkable exception. His
emergence as a front-runner in a field crowded with seemingly
redoubtable figures like Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh, Narendra
Modi, Naveen Patnaik, Rahul Gandhi, et al, is all the more
noteworthy because of his quiet, unassuming persona.
Yet, by winning a resounding electoral mandate, he has been
unequivocally hailed by vox populi as their choice as the person
of the year.
The extraordinariness of Nitish Kumar's feat is demonstrated by
the unbelievable turnaround that he has brought about in Bihar's
social and economic scene. Needless to say, his political success
is based on this transformation.
The result is that he has proved beyond all doubt that if a
politician uses the official and political power in his hands for
the betterment of ordinary people's lives, he becomes virtually
India will be a much improved country if this simple lesson
provided by Nitish Kumar is widely emulated. And at no time is
there a greater need for such emphasis on the fundamental
requirements of the people than in the present murky atmosphere
when, as Sonia Gandhi has said, the country's "moral universe" has
Except, perhaps, in Bihar where the incarceration of 40,000
criminals and anti-socials, and the fall in the number of
abductions from 1,390 to 315, have largely restored the common
man's faith in the administration's clout and goodwill. In a
country where the parties are not averse to employing goons as
cadres, the chief minister has shown that he means business.
As a result, there has been a 45 percent surge in automobile sales
because people are no longer afraid of travelling alone and with
women and children. Besides, they can afford to remain out after
nightfall unlike in the past when the roads became deserted and
the haunts of criminals.
But it isn't the improved law and order situation alone which has
encouraged greater outdoor excursions. There has also been a vast
improvement in the condition of roads with the restoration and
construction of nearly 7,000 km of highways and 1,500 bridges,
including 300 elevated ones.
Much of this work was done by a public sector undertaking, which
was able to overcome its earlier deficit of Rs.17 crore to
contribute Rs.20 crore for relief to the Kosi flood victims. But
no less noteworthy than its good work was the subsequent promotion
of a young officer in its charge to a larger road construction
department, which underlined the chief minister's ability to spot
and reward talented bureaucrats.
At the same time, he has been ruthless in the matter of initiating
action against officials found guilty of corrupt practices by
fast-track courts and housing schools in their confiscated
Since these measures have improved the investment climate, it is
not surprising that Bihar's current growth rate of 11.3 percent
has become comparable to Gujarat's. For the present, however, this
upward trend can be ascribed to the fact that shops and commercial
establishments can remain open till late at night, which was not
possible during the days of the so-called 'jungle raj'.
The phrase was earlier derided as political hyperbole, but not
after the return of normalcy in daily life.
Apart from law and order, Nitish Kumar has focussed on the
education sector with the employment of 235,000 teachers at the
primary and secondary levels to reduce the teacher-student ratio
from the present dismal 1:73. The provision of uniforms and cycles
to girls has also been an attractive feature of his policies.
The chief minister has now turned his attention to higher
education with his proposal to set up the Nalanda university to
recall its glorious heritage. For this purpose, he has selected
Amartya Sen and A.P.J. Abdul Kalam as patrons. His allocation of
250 acres to Aligarh Muslim University has been seen as a step to
appease the minorities, but by now his reputation among the
Muslims is secure enough to preclude such obvious palliatives.
His success in winning the support of the Muslims despite having
the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as a partner is based on a
no-nonsense approach to communal relations where he hasn't allowed
his ally any leeway at all. In this respect, Nitish Kumar has
shown how stern he is compared to Naveen Patnaik, who looked on
helplessly as the anti-Christian riots fuelled by the saffron camp
raged in Orissa in 2008, compelling him to snap ties with the BJP.
In contrast, Nitish Kumar showed the firm, uncompromising side of
his character when he refused to let Narendra Modi and Varun
Gandhi, with their less than favourable image among the Muslims,
to set foot in Bihar even to campaign for their own party, the
Nitish Kumar's success via these steps in weaning sizeable
sections of the Muslims from Lalu Prasad's Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD)
and the Congress undoubtedly contributed to his electoral triumph,
as did his reaching out to the so-called Mahadalits to undercut
the support base of Ramvilas Paswan's Lok Janashakti Party (LJP)
among the Dalits.
His focus on the extreme backward castes (EBCs) also helped him by
widening the distance between them and the other backward castes (OBCs),
who constitute the RJD's vote bank.
But these sectarian ploys, which used to be the staple of Hindi
heartland politics, are only sub-plots where the main storyline in
Bihar is concerned. The latter relates to development and law and
order - the two planks that have turned Nitish Kumar into a
larger-than-life figure. If he carries on in this vein, he can
become Bihar's best-ever chief minister.
(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at