Patna/ Nagpur: The bells of India’s futuristic politics were heard ringing on the roads of Patna on Sunday. Soon after the results were announced, a group of women gathered in front of TV cameras lined up outside party offices on Beer Chand Patel Road and began shouting: Ab ki baar, Nitish Kumar. A few yards away, another group was shouting: BJP Bihar haari hai, ab Delhi ki baari hai.
Nitish is also a fascinating contrast against Modi and thus a tempting alternative. He represents the very idea that supporters of Modi seem to ridicule: secularism, socialism and politics of consensus. The basis of his politics can be easily summed up in one line that Nitish Kumar himself offered a few years ago, “Yeh India hai. Yahan topi bhi pehen ni parti hai aur tilak bhi lagana parta hai.” His political ethos will automatically turn Nitish Kumar into an automatic choice for the constituency that is uncomfortable with the politics of the BJP under Modi.
Nitish Kumar’s development model, now that it has Bihar’s imprimatur, will also be a big challenge for Modi because of its different theme. Modi believes in delightful slogans, crafty alliterations that sell the idea of an India powered by aggressive corporate investments, big-ticket projects and foreign investments.
Nitish Kumar, on the other extreme, believes in understated small initiatives, minor but gradual improvements on the grass-root level, state’s intervention and investments in the social sector. He believes in the idea of reaching out directly to the last man, against Modi’s belief that fruits of his development model will automatically trickle down to the intended beneficiaries.
Just one example underlines the contrast. While Modi talked about bullet trains in his 2014 election campaign, Nitish Kumar focused on the success of his scheme for giving bicycles to students so that they could go to schools. The bicycle vs bullet train debate would be a fascinating battle of ideas.
There are then the contrasts in personalities. Modi is aggressive; he loves to speak to large crowds in a language that is a mix of bravado, bluster, motivational talk and rhetoric that inspires the devout but intimidates the sceptic. Nitish Kumar is more at home conversing with a small audience, speaking in a soft, gentle voice like a panchayat elder sitting in a village chaupal that engages the follower but bores the disinterested. So, if Modi were born for Madison Gardenesque rock star events, Nitish Kumar is the perfect person for chai pe charcha.
This doesn’t mean Nitish Kumar has it made. His biggest weakness would be the very foundation of his rising stature: the burden of expectations. From now on? Nitish Kumar wnuld be under India’s close scrutiny, every step he takes, every move he makes, people would be watching him. On? misstep, one wrong sound-byte and Nitish Kumar would pay a huge price.
The compromises he makes with Lalu Prasad Yadav in Bihar to keep both his government and ambition intact would also define his future. If he is seen as too malleable, appears willing to bend and crawl to keep his ally in good humour or allows Bihar to slip into what many of his voters remember as jungle raj, Nitish Kumar would never progress beyond Patliputra.
There are, of course, the other challenges: getting support of other regional leaders, keeping the Congress by his side and stitching alliances that would give him a shot at Lok Sabha seats outside Bihar.
Be that as it may, the battle in the minds of Indians between the idea of Modi and the philosophy of Nitish Kumar has begun.