Nitish Kumar was India’s Railway Minister then. I was travelling with him in a two-bogie special train, packed with SPG commandos as former prime minister Chandra Shekhar was also with us. Nitish could have availed the facilities of a luxurious saloon but he was mindful that he was visiting the village home of the Total Revolution leader Jayaprakash Narayan to pay tributes on his birth anniversary. I too was excited to visit Sitabadiara in Saran district of Bihar. Nitish visited the village each year as, he said, “Jayaprakash Narayan is my hero”.
But weren’t both Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad Yadav the products of Total Revolution? Why did the two then take different paths? I put these to Nitish during the dinner just as when our train shook and, for a second, the wheels perhaps went up in air. A qualified engineer that Nitish is, he ran out of the cabin elbowing Chandra Shekhar, who was sitted next to him, shouting: “Ask him (the driver) to slow down. It is a two-bogie train. Why is he so fast.” He then personally instructed the driver on walkie-talkie: “If you can’t, let me take the train to Sitabadiara. I can handle it.” Back with us he picked up a cucumber slice quipping: “You took Laluji’s name and see what happened.”
But incorrigible that I am, I impressed upon him to discuss his Bihar plan. This was necessary as Nitish was then part of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the Centre whose attempts to dismiss the Lalu regime had just failed as it lacked numbers in Parliament. Nitish first felt shy but then went on to share some of his grand plans for Bihar. He told me that since he was in politics he aimed for the highest post he could achieve but his priority was to devote his prime time in Bihar and for that to happen he wanted the people of Bihar to understand the ‘mirage’ sold to them by Lalu. “I am not in a hurry. You are from Bihar and you know what Laluji has done to our state. Today, he has the numbers and best we may try we cannot dislodge his government which has the Congress support. So we don’t want any misadventure; let them rule to the full. Let elections come and I will go to the people who I am sure won’t give him the numbers again.” And when Nitish finally became the chief minister in 2005, I smiled. It was Nitish’s calculated win. The people of Bihar had voted both Lalu and Congress out.
Today, Nitish has completed his five-year term. Unarguably, he is battle-tied in the assembly elections in Bihar once again, an election which has the potential to make or break these two leaders. Nitish himself terms it as a ‘make or mar election’. If Nitish leads his coalition of Janata Dal (United) and Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) to victory, it would be his hat-trick win – after 2005 assembly and 2009 Lok Sabha polls – and he is sure to emerge as a serious contender for the post of prime minister in 2014. And if Lalu Yadav wins leading his alliance of Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), he would catapult to the Lalu of 1990 who mercilessly ruled Bihar for straight 15 years, both directly and by proxy.
Seriously speaking, I, though, do not feel that Nitish has done so much as is the hullabaloo. In Bihar, potable water is scarce – water pipes are rusted and pass through choked drains; vocational education is neglected – children are still going out to pursue courses; health remains a non-starter – check it out on the lawns of New Delhi’s AIIMS; industry is hard to locate – there has been no investment; jobs are not available – Biharis are venturing out even to earn Rs.2000 a month; and THE POOR are helpless – PDS has vanished. Moreover government officials do not inspire confidence.
Worst, the morale of a Bihari is still very very low.
I have no illusion that Bihar is optionless today. Both the Elders and Youngsters, Hindus and Muslims, Upper Castes and Lower Castes feel cheated. But I am given to understand that the voters this elections are not confused.
There is no likelihood of Congress getting even double figures, Lalu’s alliance partner LJP’s Ramvilas Paswan (who just five years ago wanted to clean up the “accummulated garbage of RJD rule in Bihar”) may also bite the dust in a row.
Any other party including the Communists have no stake in the state. Even BJP for that matter cannot dream of power without their alliance partner JD (U).
Thus the fight is only between Nitish and Lalu. And ye public hai, sab jaanti hai. This 2010 there won’t be any scope for trial and error.