Nitish may just have redefined 2014 as a contest between two types of CM, two systems of governance
Is Nitish nuts, a genius, or too clever by half? The answer is, none of the above. He is, simply, a hundred per cent post-Mandal, heartland politician. He knows his equations of caste, vote banks and ideologies. He is also a risk-taker, and reads the political winds better than most others. Among all the former Lohiaites who emerged from Mandal’s creative destruction of the heartland’s old vote banks, he was the only one who embraced the BJP. The other two, Lalu and Mulayam, placed themselves squarely against it, as leaders of the hard secular side, knowing that a minimalistic approach of getting the Muslims together with the Yadavs would be good enough to keep them in business in a fragmented politics. Nitish was crowded out of the same space by Lalu. But he had the political audacity, and foresight, to go the “other” way, thereby becoming the first secular Lohiaite (with George Fernandes and Sharad Yadav as his partners) to do so.
His most remarkable success lies in the way he has attracted the many backward castes, while embracing the BJP and its upper caste voters, and yet comforting the Muslims, and in the process devastating Lalu Prasad. One of the most significant findings of our travels through elections in Bihar, particularly in 2010, was how he had got Bihar’s Muslims to admire him, even call him sher ka bachcha (the description became the headline for that instalment of my Writings on the Wall, ‘When lonely Lalu misses “gentleman” Sonia and a Muslim calls Nitish “sher ka bachcha”‘) from the campaign. He achieved that while being in the BJP’s tight embrace for two reasons: one, he had given Bihar a genuinely secular and peaceful five years. And two, he had kept Narendra Modi out of the campaign.