By raising the issue of other backward states and the issue of inclusive development, Nitish apparently wanted to elevate his stature beyond Bihar ahead of the 2014 elections.
Interestingly, notwithstanding the aggressive sloganeering of his party workers and supporters who gathered at the rally, the Ádhikar’rally appeared to be more of an advance thanks giving mobilisation for the Centre ahead of an expected announcement regarding a special status or package. The Chief Minister repeatedly referred to Finance Minister P Chidamabaram’s assurance of a review of the existing criterion to grant special status.
The Congress, which is far more keen to sabotage Modi’s chances at the Centre that having JD (U) as an ally, had recently shifted the Bihar Governor to placate Kumar, who was not sharing the best of relations with him.
In Nitish’s speech, there was neither any reference to Congress or UPA or BJP and NDA. It was only after Nitish’s speech that the real purpose of keeping the BJP away from the event dawned. BJP leaders would have lashed out at the Centre and UPA mercilessly while Nitish is apparently on a fence mending mission. No harsh words were used. No reference was made to crucial issues like corruption, price rise or contentious Centre-state issues such as FDI or NCTC.
With the BJP and the larger Sangh Parivar yet to reach a consensus on Modi’s nomination as the Prime Ministerial candidate and the ruling coalition facing an uphill task confronted as it is with charges of corruption, price rise et al, Nitish knows how important it is to strike when the iron is hot and make hay when the sun shines. He knows that in the past, Deve Gowda with 16 MPs made it to the top job and I K Gujral achieved it with little support at the grass root level.
Nitish also knows that in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-linguistic and polarised society, wider acceptability and not mass popularity holds the key to power.
But Nitish must realise he has drawbacks. Like him or not, Modi has delivered his vision of development in Gujarat, but Bihar is no role model for the inclusive development that Nitish spoke of. And if he is banking on the mercurial Mamata or the self-contented Naveen babu for redemption, we can only pray for him.