The battle for Patliputra has begun and a lot is at stake for leaders like – Narendra Modi, Lalu Prasad Yadav, Ram Vilas Paswan, Jitan Ram Manjhi and, most importantly, Nitish Kumar - the present chief minister of Bihar who is credited for bringing a turnaround of the erstwhile ‘BIMARU’ state.
If the victory of the BJP-led NDA in crucial Bihar Assembly polls will embolden PM Modi’s government at the Centre and further strengthen his grip over the party, the same would also make Lalu Prasad Yadav’s family and his party RJD relevant in Bihar. If a victory here will give the much-needed oxygen to Ram Vilas Paswan, who is trying to regain the lost ground through his party LJP, it would establish HAM chief Jitan Ram Manjhi as a ‘dark horse’ in the politics of Bihar.
But the person who will be most affected with the victory or defeat in Bihar will undoubtedly be Nitish Kumar, who is facing the biggest test of his political career in these elections.
Nitish Kumar, whose showdown with Narendra Modi began ever since he snapped ties with BJP over latter’s appointment as the NDA’s 2014 Lok Sabha election campaign committee chief and prime ministerial candidate in the second half of 2013, is under enormous pressure to prove that his decision was right.
Since Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party’s victory in Delhi Assembly elections last year convinced the anti-Modi brigade that Narendra Modi is not ‘invincible’, the victory of the grand-alliance floated by Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad Yadav will see more such forces joining hands in future to stop a ‘communal’ BJP in other states.
Clearly, if the JD(U)-RJD-Congress combine wins in Bihar, it will establish Nitish as the tallest leader of the anti-BJP national coalition and the most formidable challenger to Modi. The Congress, though a low key player in Bihar, will get new wind in its sails. Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul will be emboldened to continue their aggressive campaign to paralyze the Narendra Modi regime by disrupting proceedings in Parliament.
Consequently, PM Modi's sheen of invincibility will dim, murmurs of internal dissent would grow and the battles for West Bengal, Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh in 2016 and 2017 will become harder to win.
However, in the event of a defeat, Nitish Kumar will be pushed to a corner with a greater possibility of being lost in the political whirlwind thereafter. If he wins, though the chances are grim, Kumar will face the risk of running a messy coalition government with Lalu Yadav holding the reins from the backseat.
Clearly, this is a battle which he cannot afford to lose. Nitish Kumar, who graduated as an engineer, made his foray into the Bihar politics in the early 1970s. More than three decades later, Nitish Kumar got an opportunity to rule the state for nearly a decade, but quit after his decision of snapping ties with long time ally BJP proved counter-productive in the 2014 polls.
But prior to the split between the two parties, this soft spoken and suave politician had led his Janata Dal-United (JD-U) and its then ally, the BJP, to a sweeping election victory in Bihar in both 2005 and 2010, displacing his one-time mentor, arch-rival and now friend Lalu Prasad.
Due to Nitish Kumar's commitment to good governance and socialist principles, vision and hard work, a lawless Bihar soon shed the tag of a 'BIMARU' (under-developed) state.
A ‘technocrat’ Nitish Kumar’s leadership pushed the engine of growth and development in Bihar, improved law and order situation, which earned him the tag of 'Vikas Purush'.
For someone like Nitish Kumar, who had for long worked under the shadow of the more charismatic Lalu Yadav, it was not easy to emerge as a leader in his own right till he broke away to chart an independent course in the mid-1990s.
His first stint in power in Patna was short lived. Becoming chief minister for the first time on March 3, 2000 with the support of half a dozen 'bahubalis' (criminals-turned-politicians), he had to resign within a week after failing to prove his majority.
Five years later, he was back in the saddle, thanks to an alliance with the BJP, a party he had courted since 1996 but whose ‘Hindutva’ brand of politics he later rejected.
Narendra Modi’s elevation at the national stage irked Nitish Kumar and he severed his party’s 17-year-old alliance with the BJP, questioning the 'secular' credentials of the Gujarat Chief Minister.
As it was expected, the break-up proved fatal for the JD-U in the 2014 General Elections and it was reduced to two seats out of the state's 40. Owing moral responsibility of the JD(U’s) defeat, Nitish Kumar quit as CM of Bihar and handed over the reins to his long-time confidant Jitan Ram Manjhi.
In a bid to defeat Modi, Nitish Kumar later joined hands with his arch-rival Lalu Prasad Yadav and succeeded in bringing together the six erstwhile factions of former Janata Parivar. This also marked the beginning of a new chapter in Bihar’s politics.
However, in major blow to Nitish and Lalu, Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav walked out of the JD(U)-led "grand alliance" and teamed up with the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) while declaring Tariq Anwar as the SP-NCP's chief ministerial candidate, slicing Muslim votes away from the Nitish-led alliance.
No doubt, Nitish Kumar is credited of ridding Bihar from the 'dark ages' of Lalu Yadav’s alleged ‘Jungle Raj’ during which the state became synonymous with bad politics, poor governance and lawlessness.
Without much noise, Kumar re-laid roads that had virtually ceased to exist, built 12,000 bridges and completed long delayed infrastructure projects, appointed over two lakh school teachers to rebuild the shattered educational system and ensured that doctors attended health centres.
His government cracked down on criminals and gangsters with strong links to politics. He ordered speedy trials and over 80,000 criminals, many of them politicians, were convicted.
In no time, Bihar's notorious crime rate dropped, so much so that young women began to venture out at night in cities like Patna. His decision to give away bicycles to thousands of girls so that they could travel to their educational institutions without any hassle further added to his popularity.
Like Lalu, Nitish Kumar was also a product of Bihar's JP movement of the 1970s. He still considers himself a socialist at heart. Born in 1951, Nitish Kumar was elected to the Bihar assembly in 1985 for the first time. He became president of the Yuva Lok Dal in 1987 and secretary general of the then undivided Janata Dal two years later.
He got elected to the Lok Sabha for the first time in 1989 and went on to win five parliamentary elections from Bihar. A Minister of State in the VP Singh government, he later became Union Railway Minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government but resigned when a train disaster claimed the lives of about 250 people.
He returned to the cabinet as minister for surface transport and agriculture.
His first term as CM was laudable but his second stint was marred with controversies. All his moves have ended up alienating someone or the other. His breakup with the BJP in 2013 angered the upper caste, his ‘sacrifice’ and appointment of Jitan Ram Manjhi as puppet chief minister in May 2014 and then his subsequent sacking in February to reinstall himself as CM had angered the Dalits and the Backwards here.
Nitish Kumar, known for his clean image, has played the biggest gamble of his political life – joining hands with fodder scam convict Lalu Yadav with an aim to defeat Modi-led NDA.
It is just a matter of few weeks to know if that gamble paid off for Nitish Kumar.