One year of JDU-RJD rule: Big boost for Nitish, some gains for Bihar
The Nitish Kumar government had prepared a 140-page report detailing its achievements in its first year since returning to power. It had called a press conference on 20 November to present the report. The Kanpur rail accident, however, scuttled this plan.
In the meantime, NDA leaders Ram Vilas Paswan, Upendra Kushwaha and Jitan Ram Manjhi came up with a predictably less charitable account of the Nitish regime's performance in a document titled "Ek Saal, Bura Haal."
The document questioned the JD(U)-RJD regime on its apparent failures - "deteriorating law and order situation", dissolution of the Agriculture Cabinet formed during the NDA rule -- and alleged that Nitish had rebranded existing bank schemes as the student credit card system.
The opposition leaders asked why the agriculture sector and initiatives like Mahadalit Vikas Mission and Manav Vikas Mission were missing from the government's much-touted "7 Nischay" (seven resolutions).
The chief minister wasn't called to respond to these questions as the press conference scheduled to present his "report card" was cancelled due to the Kanpur tragedy. The state's Information department simply uploaded the report on its website.
The report card focuses on Nitish's seven resolutions. The student credit card system is described as one of the major achievements of his government. The scheme is aimed at providing an allowance of Rs 1,000 per month to every unemployed youth. The report also talks up the increase of 10.5 lakh in the number of electricity consumers over the past year, and quota for women of 35% in government jobs and 50% in teaching jobs.
In the report, Nitish has reiterated his promises to provide running water to every household, and link all parts of the state with Patna in such a way that it does not take more than five hours to reach the capital from any region. In addition, the report applauds the fact that the "planning size" of Bihar has grown 27 times over the past decade.
The practice of releasing an annual "report card" on the state government's work was started by Nitish himself in 2005. He has done it every year since bar when he had handed over the reins to Jitan Ram Manjhi.
BJP not impressed
Senior BJP leader and Nitish's former deputy Sushil Kumar Modi is not impressed with the report. "We had sought answers on many issues. But the chief minister evaded tough questions using the excuse of the Kanpur rail accident," he said.
Sushil Modi's party colleague Nand Kishore Yadav added, "The state has been in the news only for the rising crime graph during the past year. What would he have answered? This is the reason the chief minister chose to release his report card quietly," Yadav alleged.
Nitish seems unfazed by this criticism. He is busy preparing for an all-party meeting on liquor prohibition, his pet project. He has expressed his intention to implement the ban in a more stringent manner.
RJD leader and minister Taj Pratap Yadav argued that his government owed no answers to the opposition. "We don't have to give answers to the leaders of a party that showed no sensitivity to the victims of the Kanpur accident. While our government cancelled all programmes following the accident, the prime minister was busy making a political speech in Agra at the same time," Tej Pratap said.
Senior RJD leader Jagdanand Singh attempted to answer the opposition, but only ended up targeting the chief minister. "The state was ruled by touts and agents during the past decade. Governance is back on track since last year." Nitish has governed Bihar since 2005 but, until 2013, in alliance with the BJP.
Seasoned politician that he is, Nitish is not unaware of the challenge he faces from his ally. While he has managed to balance ties with Lalu Prasad, the RJD chief, his focus is not only to reestablish himself in Bihar but to seek a greater role in national politics.
As senior journalist Birendra Yadav put it, "Nitish was clever enough to keep ministerial portfolios with his own party. Aside from Tej Pratap, Tejaswi Yadav and Abdul Bari Siddiqui of the RJD and Ashok Chaudhary of the Congress, his alliance partners only head departments that aren't of much importance."
The same applies to the numerous boards and corporations in the state. Most of them were chaired by JD(U) leaders before the coalition government came to power. The new dispensation got them to resign, raising the hopes of RJD and Congress camps that they will get a share of the spoils. However, most of these posts are still lying vacant. The chief minister has maintained a studious silence on the issue. Instead, he's "dedicating his energy" to the success of his 'Nischay Yatra' instead.
On a mission
Nitish Kumar hopes to raise a new cadre of panchayat workers, Anganwadi employees, Jevikasevis through this initiative. RJD leaders have been kept at a distance from the yatra as Kumar engages these potential foot soldiers in a dialogue.
Like Nishchay Yatra, Kumar has kept himself at the centre of all the welfare schemes launched during the past year. Leaders like Tejaswi Yadav appear to fulfil only the quorum mandatory for "coalition dharma".
In senior journalist Gyaneshwar Vatsayana's view, Nitish is a "sharp" leader. "He has proved wrong those critics who had suggested that Lalu Prasad would be the dominant factor in the government. The RJD supremo had claimed that while Kumar would run the government, he would roam the country to oppose Modi. Nothing of that sort happened," he said.
In fact, Gyaneshwar argued, Nitish is fighting the RJD as much as he's fighting the NDA. "He is vocal when it comes to the opposition, but has chosen to answer the RJD through silence. He has countered the education mafia and its links to Lalu's party. He is wary of the tactics of his alliance partner. He is trying to inculcate the image of an upright leader who is not influenced by his allies," he adds.
Prof S Narayan, a social scientist, went as far as to predict that Nitish would soon emerge as an alternative to Modi on the national scene. "Nitish Kumar is a capable administrator. He is a visionary leader as well. He has succeeded in projecting himself as the foremost leader of the government despite the presence of the RJD and the Congress. So far, the NDA has failed to corner him."
Prof Narayan pointed towards Nitish's "activism" during the past year. "He has criticised the central government on several issues. But he has also defied Lalu to support Modi on surgical strikes and demonetisation. At the same time, he is busy expanding his party's support base. He has organised several rallies in Uttar Pradesh and is quite active in Jharkhand," he said.
Prof Narayan sees Nitish as a leader who is willing to adapt to changing circumstances. For example, before aligning with the rightist BJP, he had been equally comfortable in alliance with the far-left CPI(ML). Now, he has proved his critics wrong by successfully running the government with his former political rival Lalu Prasad. Nitish is quite aware of the difference between "opportunism and meeting the opportunities that come his way". It seems nobody can use him while can get away with using anybody for his benefit, Prof Narayan said.