Sunday, November 22, 2009

After poll jolt, Nitish cements BJP ties

Patna, Nov. 21: If the recent bypoll reverses have got Nitish Kumar worried, then the Bihar chief minister does a good job of hiding his concerns.

Political rivals, he dares, can do what they want and say what they feel. Bihar’s new hope after Lalu Prasad insists that there has been no change in voting patterns in the September debacle in which the JD(U) and its ally, the BJP, managed to win only five of the 18 seats where bypolls were held.

“Kisthi kahan doobi jahan paani kum thi. Jahan dhyan nahi diya, woh doob gaye (Our boat sank where I wasn’t paying attention).” Hidden behind the flourish of that eloquent explanation is the realisation of a lesson learnt. Not that Nitish has come to terms with the loss that was celebrated big time by Lalu Prasad. His thesis is an indication that he has already figured out a way to ensure there is no repeat of such a debacle.

“The bypoll hasn’t been taken seriously,” Nitish told The Telegraph at his 1 Anne Marg residence in an exclusive interview. “People saw (that) when Laluji wins seats there is celebration in the air… how in full view of the public liquor bottles are opened, crackers are burst. All this reminded them of the old days.”

Implicit in that description of Nitish is the conviction that since he had toiled so hard to forklift Bihar out of those “old days”, any event that so much rekindled those memories would be shunned by the people.

Having said that, Nitish indicated, albeit unwittingly, that the bypoll jolt had led his JD(U) to view its alliance with the BJP more seriously. Rival offers notwithstanding, there is now no move to part ways. “We are in a coalition, and it is doing well. Why experiment daily? Public mandate is for the coalition, so who am I to break it?”

So, is a future tie-up with the Congress in the realm of possibility now that the UPA has come back stronger than ever before in Delhi? No. “Our very existence has come out of fighting the Congress. My roots are in anti-Congress-ism. After all, all of us have worked hard to reach where we have. That is a party where leaders are created.”

The reference is not hard to get. And when arch-rival Lalu Prasad has also taken to throwing darts at a young Congressman by the name of Gandhi, we know why the two are suddenly so desperate to publicly distance themselves from the Grand Old Party of India.

In the fight for the same space, Nitish today is way ahead of Lalu. “To divide society for political gain is easy. But it is never long-lasting. See what happened in Bihar,” Nitish explained, citing the various changes his government had been able to bring about to wipe out the memories of those “old days”.

The chief minister called it development with peace. “It’s about inclusive democracy. The foundation of this change has been on two fronts.

“One, there is a sense of Bihari-pan with a narrowing of internal divisions. Side by side, there is development. Schools are being built, roads are being built, hospitals are functioning again. People are seeing this.”

Nitish believes it’s time for the next leap now that his government is completing four years on November 24.

“The question of basic necessity has been answered. Now it’s the second stage. Jab do roti milta hai, log puchhte hai ‘is me butter kiyon nahin hai’ (When you start getting your daily bread, you want butter).”

But Nitish believes his biggest achievement has been to rid the state of a fear psychosis that ran through people from villages to the cities. “Now, women are going for a dip in the Ganges at 4am on Karthik Purnima. That was unheard of in those days. That fear psychosis has vanished.”

The fast-track courts helped garner confidence among people. “Once people realised they had a government that would not protect wrong elements, that if people indulged in criminal acts, they would not be protected by the government, then things began to change on the ground.”

Whenever he has felt hemmed in politically, as after the bypoll reverses in September, Nitish’s trump card has been to simply recall Bihar’s “dark” days, and do so without pointing fingers and naming names. Be it financial management — “tax collections are now Rs 7,000 crore per year from the measly Rs 2,000 crore” — or decentralisation of power — “even co-operatives have been cleaned up and are due for elections” — his record speaks for itself.

Yet, he is quick to admit there’s more to be done. Lower level corruption still plagues the system, though he has introduced several-e-governance measures like e-filing of taxes to eliminate “inspector raj”.

The workforce, too, has been frustrating. “It’s a question of sensitisation,” explained Nitish, “Earlier there was no work, but now there is a lot of work.”

Of late, info-tech has been in the chief minister’s radar. Having announced industry status for IT, Nitish is now pitching Bihar alongside Pune, Bangalore and even Hyderabad. “We have started late, but let me assure you that here in Bihar we can also do the work of a Bangalore and Hyderabad, but at a lower cost,” he told an august gathering of tech company CEOs last week.

The chief minister’s open invitation to techies comes in the last leg of his tenure. Just as well. For, Nitish sure knows about a certain Chandrababu Naidu and how over-emphasis on technology can spell doom for a well-meaning and efficient chief minister.

Source : The Telegraph