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The true winners are the people of Bihar

Last updated on: November 24, 2010 17:43 IST
Biharis seem to have broken the caste divide to vote for good governance in a deeply caste-ridden society and that is Nitish Kumar's biggest triumph, says Archana Masih.

Nitish Kumar's landslide sweep marked the end of a two month-long, six-phase election that meandered through some important religious festivals -- Dussehra, Diwali, Eid -- and the big celebration of Chhat in Bihar.

Much before the final results came in, firecrackers were already being burst across the state to celebrate the landslide win of a man who in as little as five years has pulled Bihar from being the black hole of India and became a chief minister that Biharis -- indeed, many Indians -- feel proud of.

Nitish Kumar has done something our leaders can no longer do -- make people feel good. With a barrage of skeletons emerging from the closets of the Rajas, Kalmadis, Chavans, Yeddyuruppas et al, Nitish Kumar is a symbol of hope for a people long deprived of governance.

"There was a time people in other states smirked when you told them you hailed from Bihar. No longer so. Nitish has brought back Bihari pride," a communications professional who has worked outside the state for a decade told me recently.

In the last five years, which is really a very short time to turn a state like Bihar around, the engineer-turned-politician has brought change that has touched people's lives.

Roads, schools, jobs for women, giving 2.5 million bicycles to students that drastically brought down the dropout rate in high school were changes that affected families across the state. After decades of misrule and lack of development during the tenures of Lalu Yadav and his wife Rabri Devi, Biharis finally saw the rewards of good governance. They reciprocated and how!

The election result is also a heartening tribute to the voting conscience of a state which has long been seen as India's most caste-ridden state. Naive as it is to think that an election anywhere in India is not dependent on the caste factor, this is one election in Bihar where development has been as important, if not more important than caste.

"Caste is part of the Bihari DNA, but I feel people -- especially the educated -- will go with Nitish irrespective of caste. Also, the social engineering (reservation for extremely backward castes in the panchayats) will also be a big reason for the win," Vijay Kumar, a school principal in Patna, had told me last month.

Clearly, both seem to have worked for Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal-United and his political partner, the Bharatiya Janata Party, which has done better than expected in this election.

The BJP has done well in many Muslim-dominated seats and has emerged as the single biggest gainer as far as seats go which is a significant achievement in an election dominated by the JD-U, its senior partner in the coalition.

Whether its increase in seats is due to Nitish Kumar's sheen -- a vote for the JD-U-led coalition -- or for the BJP alone will be deduced in the days to come, but one can expect an enhanced role for the BJP and state Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Modi in the state cabinet.

But as much as this election is about Nitish Kumar's rousing comeback, it is also about the rout of Lalu Yadav, the man who dominated Bihar politics for 15 years and like it or not became the face of the state.

If not the 'king' himself, Lalu used to call himself the 'kingmaker', but the result has shown that however powerful, however long the stint in office, the wrath of the voters can bring the mightiest of politicians to their knees.

The writing on the wall was for Lalu to see in the last Lok Sabha election itself when his Rashtriya Janata Dal party won only four seats. He himself contested two Lok Sabha seats and won Chhapra with a narrow margin, but lost Patliputra. This time round, his wife Rabri Devi, the former chief minister, lost both the seats she contested. The rout had begun last year, the nadir came on Wednesday.

Nitish Kumar will be sworn in for a second term on Friday. He led the JD-U-BJP coalition seeking a mandate on the development he had brought to the state and has won a mammoth victory in an election where women came out in greater numbers to vote than men.

He ended his first term in office leaving a sense of optimism and hope in the people based on the work he had accomplished. This time he has to deliver on improving the power situation, reviving industry and higher education among other issues.

A state which many feel went back 40 years in the 15 years of RJD rule has lots to catch up on and Nitish Kumar will need to work doubly hard during his second term as chief minister.

The verdict also shows that people will vote for those who build roads, schools and give them jobs. That good governance can score even over caste. Bihar has shown this convincingly today and it is this that should be celebrated.

Also read: The Return of India's Lost State
How Rs 2,000 brought Bihar's greatest change

Archana Masih