Except the incorrigibly blind and fanatic supporters of Lalu Yadav, everybody, including Lalu himself, knew it too well that Nitish Kumar's five-year record of good governance would bring him back to power.
Nitish's most emphasised plank of socially inclusive economic development, a proactive, sincere and successful attempt at including the lower backwards (ati-pichhra, who constitute 26 per cent of the total population), lower Dalits (Maha Dalits, which included 21 out of 22 Dalit castes in all), backward Muslims (Pasmanda, , who are 60 per cent of the total Muslims, most of them ati-pichhrha), women empowerment with class neutral development plank and relatively improved law and order won him a second term.
One of the most dependable exit polls (Centre for the Study of Developing Societies) had already predicted that the Nitish-led front would secure over 200 seats (out of a total of 243) with about 40 per cent (defying all caste-community specific voting) of the total vote.
Women were given 50 per cent reservations in Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs), besides some additional welfare schemes; girl students were given bicycles; schools and hospitals have been given teachers and doctors (even though highly underpaid, contractually employed ones). They turned out in larger number (10 per cent higher turnout than ever before) to vote for Nitish.
As many as 20 per cent of the seats in the PRIs are reserved for the lower OBCs, it effectively challenged not only the upper caste hegemony but also the hegemony of the upper OBCs.
The Pasmanda Muslims got empowerment particularly through this reservation for the lower OBCs. These segments of population are moving out, deliberating with the bureaucrats, and signing bank cheques, which in itself is a substantive sign of empowerment.
In a feudal society like Bihar it is not a small thing. Much of these have already been elaborated in my three columns on Rediff.com before the polls.
But while empowering the weaker sections (which is appropriately and genuinely characterised as the second phase of social justice), Nitish made it sure that the middle class issues are not neglected, hence he concentrated on constructing roads, and improved law and order, night life in the city of Patna, putting 50,000 to 60,000 criminals behind bars, and denying political interferences in policing, curbing incidents of kidnapping and vehicle snatching, convinced the middle classes of all castes and communities that this chief minister means business.
It was a great sigh of relief for the people of Bihar who had suffered under the hollow rhetoric of Lalu's social justice.
Why the Opposition failed so miserably
Lalu not only neglected but mocked the issue of development. On many occasions he made it public that politics is about power not about development. People shuddered at the very thought of Lalu coming back to power. Making Rabri Devi contest from two constituencies created a huge apprehension even among his own people that he might put her in the chair again as CM. That is why Rabri lost from both constituencies.
This time people were not prepared even to laugh at the jokes of the comic politician. His jokes were now taken as cruelty against Bihar. That added to the advantage of Nitish, who has made politics a serious business of development, good governance, and genuine social justice. Even though quite belatedly, the people of Bihar have punished politicians like Lalu befittingly.
Such a feeble opposition (22 in 243 seats of the assembly) may not augur well for democracy, but the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the front-running Opposition party, deserved it. Unlike many other performing CMs of other states who ultimately lost elections, Nitish Kumar ensured that development must focus on the rural populace.
Nitish Kumar showed his interest in initiating land reforms by implementing the D Bandopadhyay Committee Report (giving proprietary right in lands cultivated by the landless bataidar for long).
It was vehemently opposed by the relevant caste groups within his own party/coalition. His own parliamentarians and other political heavyweights (like Lallan Singh, a Bhumihar, and Prabhunath Singh, a Rajput) rebelled/deserted him. Some switched over even to Lalu.
Many predicted it may prove to be Nitish's undoing. But the landless poor could see through this game and it eventually produced better electoral dividends for Nitish, it further consolidated the landless poor in favour of the incumbent regime.
The complete rout of the forces like the CPI-ML Liberation could probably be explained in this way.
The Congress has/had no local face, it pursued the election campaign quite half heartedly, with what is now rightly called 'parachute politics.' Some unimaginative, unpopular, least known/credible faces came down to Bihar from Delhi just to address few cosmetic rallies.
The unimaginative prospective prime ministerial candidate and 'youth leader', Rahul Gandhi, was just not able to or capable of defining a vision/ roadmap for the development of Bihar. Meanwhile, so many corruption cases opened up against the Congress-led Union government. Skyrocketing prices further damaged the Congress, whose economist prime minister is only fixing ever extended deadlines to curb inflation.
The association of discredited leaders like Sadhu Yadav (Lalu's brother-in-law) and rebel Janata Dal-United Member of Parliament Lalan Singh, former Rashtriya Janata Dal MP Akhilesh Singh etc with the Congress made the party appear like a party of Bhumihars and Yadavs with hopes of some Muslim votes. This heavily dented its prospects (if at all it had any).
Its frequent opportunistic alliances with Lalu had already discredited the Congress which ruled Bihar for decades only to reduce it to an 'internal colony', making it suffer the ignominy of becoming a mere supplier of cheap labour.
Consequently, the 'Bihari' identity became a word of contempt and abuse. How could the people of Bihar forget and forgive the Congress for it?
The poor thinkers of the Congress contradicted themselves. First they denied that Nitish has really delivered on development and then they claimed that those development works have been made possible by generous funds provided by the Union government. Nitish drove this point home to the people that this talk of the Congress is essentially an assault on the self respect of the people of Bihar.
The fund is a matter of right of the states, not a grant of charitable alms from the Congress. Moreover, efficiency in utilising those funds was a bigger issue on which Nitish was able to perform impressively.
What lies ahead
But such a huge victory puts a much bigger responsibility on Nitish; more so, when Nitish and his JD-U does not have a well organised cadre-based party machinery. Nor does he have a promising, visionary second rung leadership among his own rank and file.
In Indian politics, the party workers are, quite often, obstacles in the ways of development, so this deficiency may also be turned to an advantage. Still, things are pretty difficult. People's expectations are so high that they won't wait for long. They won't tolerate any delay in pushing ahead development work at the fastest possible pace.
Such a highly resounding mandate often results into quick alienation coming out of disappointment.
Most daunting of all is enhancing the production of electricity. Realistically speaking, it will take much time, and much cooperation from the Union government. Given the track record of the Congress, particularly in Bihar, it appears that the Union government may not be much forthcoming in contributing to the development of Bihar.
On this particular aspect, Nitish will have to do a loud thinking with technocrats, bureaucrats, and intelligentsia. He needs to initiate a much qualified consultation process.
The second most important task before him is to work on providing comprehensive irrigation facilities. The state-run pumping system of water irrigation that existed long ago with the disgusting monopoly of selected upper caste hegemons of respective villages has atrophied. Without it, Nitish will not be able to achieve his stated priority of food security.
Generating employment is another big challenge before him. This has to be done through agrarian improvements, power production, industrialisation (only 1 per cent of the nation's industrialisation is shared by Bihar), particularly food processing and agro-based industries, attracting private investments etc.
This will need financial mediation also. For big industries, land acquisition will be a daunting task; moreover, the low lying lands of North Bihar are hardly preferable for big industrialists. How will he cope with this challenge is to be seen.
Tourism has to be improvised on a big scale to boost state income. Bodh Gaya, Vaishali, Rajgir etc have to be provided with high investments on all fronts.
In 1995, Lalu had registered a surprising victory and had promised to do all these things, but never had the capability to make all this happen. The people of Bihar were naive to expect this of him. His decline began subsequently, but unfortunately, it took painfully long to replace him with a visionary, doer politician as Nitish.
Hope Nitish does not forget this history.
Investment (public and private) in education is another big challenge. Filling up huge vacancies in government schools, colleges, universities on full salaries (rather than on contractual ones), opening up of medical colleges in regions like Saran, Champaran, Bhojpur, Purnea etc is an immediate necessity, with enhancing undergraduate and post graduate seats in the pre-existing medical colleges -- all this will go a long way in improving the health care system of Bihar.
Besides, some engineering colleges, polytechnics, management colleges also needed to produce skilled human resources. Investments in agricultural research have to be addressed. Per capita availability of police personnel and doctors is appallingly low. Both these need to be addressed on a priority basis.
It was generally believed that bribery and corruption has gone up during Nitish's time. He, therefore, legislated a Bill to confiscate the assets in disproportion to the known sources of income of the bureaucracy. He will have to launch a crackdown against such officials and will have to work on it with greater efficiency and sincerity so that a deterrence effect is there with exemplary punishment.
The persistent devastative floods are the biggest bane of Bihar and needs comprehensive, pragmatic attention.
To accomplish all these daunting but necessary tasks, Nitish will need cooperation from many quarters including his strong ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party. If the BJP intends to pursue a communally divisive agenda, then things will fall apart and Bihar will suffer again.
There are reasons to hope that Nitish will do everything to pre-empt such an undesirable possibility. Bihar is looking forward, fixing its hopes on Nitish. People have given a huge mandate, the leadership has to act forthrightly.
Very few people in history get such a rare opportunity. Keeping such a historic support base intact till the next election is not a cakewalk.
One wishes Bihar does not fall prey to divisive, hate mongering identity politics any more.
My best wishes to the people of Bihar, for such a long awaited mandate, rebelling against caste identities, to a performing 'Mr Clean' called Nitish.
Dr Mohammad Sajjad teaches History at Aligarh Muslim University.