In a strong endorsement of his focus on development and implementation of the rule of law, Bihar's voters have given Chief Minister Nitish Kumar a second consecutive term in office. Mr. Kumar's party, the Janata Dal(United), in alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party, was widely expected to win the Assembly election, but the scale of victory — a four-fifths majority — came as a surprise even to ardent supporters. Five years ago, Mr. Kumar won on the basis of a largely negative vote, capitalising on the failings of his predecessors, Lalu Prasad and Rabri Devi. This time, however, he sought and obtained popular support for his own brand of sober and inclusive politics that stayed clear of chauvinism of any sort. In the place of the casteist vote-bank politics of Lalu Prasad's Rashtriya Janata Dal, he offered the people a new vision, the hope of economic growth and sustained development. Chief Minister Kumar spent the last five years trying to steer towards development one of India's most socio-economically backward States. At the end of his first term, he could report success in building infrastructure facilities, investing in school education, boosting medical care in rural areas, and cracking down on crime. For the people of Bihar, who endured 15 years of stagnation and deterioration of law and order under Lalu-Rabri rule, this was a welcome change. Not surprisingly, the 2010 election saw renewed voter interest, and a surge in the participation of women voters. Mr. Kumar not only cut into the support base of his political rivals; he also seems to have won over sections of the hitherto politically indifferent.
In its electoral success, the JD(U) was no doubt helped by its ally. But the BJP, with its deeply divisive agenda, could also have been a serious electoral handicap. Mr. Kumar shrewdly kept his distance from controversial BJP leaders without damaging the alliance. The JD(U) thus had it both ways: it retained its non-communal, independent image while remaining part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. With Mr. Kumar as the face of the alliance, the JD(U) and the BJP had no difficulty in trouncing the RJD-Lok Janshakti Party combination as well as the Congress, which fared far worse than in the previous election. Whether the JD(U) and the BJP can continue to do this over the long term — papering over fundamental ideological differences — is another question. In his second term, the challenge for Mr. Kumar will be to meet the heightened expectations of the people. Chief Minister Kumar will have to build on the achievements of the last five years, focus on reducing the scale of mass deprivations, and put Bihar on a new growth spiral.
Keywords: Bihar politics