Who Will Win Bihar?

English: Shashi Tharoor in the Global Redesign...
English: Shashi Tharoor in the Global Redesign Session. Participants captured during the World Economic Forum's India Economic Summit 2009 held in New Delhi, 8-10 November 2009. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The polls are all over the place, and both alliances are claiming a two thirds majority. So right now the picture is not clear at all. I am not sure, but at this juncture, I'd be surprised if Nitish loses. This was an election for the job of Chief Minister, and Nitish was the only one running.

Last year Nitish got a drubbing in Bihar for two reasons. One, Modi was a great candidate, he had both a lower middle class background and a low caste background, plus he projected development. And Modi was the only person in the country running for Prime Minister. Two, Biharis were in no mood to lose Nitish. The work Nitish had done since 2005 was his doing. Nobody else in his party could fill his shoes, and Jitan Ram Majhi proved that beyond doubt. I like the idea of a Mahadalit Chief Minister, but I like the idea of someone who can govern and give economic growth much more.

Nitish winning in Bihar is not bad news for Modi nationally. In fact, it is terrific news. Modi became Prime Minister last year, but nobody became Opposition Leader. Nitish will claim that seat if he wins. But Nitish will be limited to Bihar. He is not going to have an impact in Uttar Pradesh in 2017 which I expect the BJP to sweep like so much kura kachara. And Nitish is not going to be a factor in 2019. He campaigned with a Bihar@2025 promise. And the Bihari voters will know better than to let him off the hook.

Bill Gates, the richest, smartest philanthropist in the world also tried to do right by the poor people of Bihar. But Gates can not match Nitish. Political leadership is such a powerful weapon at the service of the poor. There is no substitute.

I am going to give Modi two more years before I start judging him. At least two more years. In my reckoning he has been excellent. India leads all countries in terms of how much FDI it has attracted so far this year. That is but one metric. I have watched him in action near daily since he won, and he has impressed me like few politicians I have followed over the years. He is extremely good. Right now I'd be surprised if 2019 becomes a worry for Modi. I expect him to take the Indian growth rate past 10% and to win an easy re-election in 2019.

The Indian media is not as sophisticated as the Bihari voter. The Bihari voter knows the difference between a national election and a state election. The India media? I am not so sure. If Nitish wins, the media that has spent over a year building up Modi like he were superman will spend about six months trying to question his every move. That is how they sell newspapers. They want little fights. They need to build up and then break down. Whereas the fundamentals of who Modi is and what he does will not have changed at all. Modi will keep showing up for work.

I have become a Modi fan. But I am also a Nitish fan. Nitish has been good for Bihar. Heck, he has turned a hopeless situation into something akin to a small miracle. Bihar's trajectory of the past decade has been unexpected, at least to me.

Nitish in Patna and Modi in Delhi is the best of both worlds, for Bihar as well as for India. Nitish doing the Opposition Leader role in Delhi would have caused a havoc. He might have been too effective. But Patna is a safe distance. And he will have a job to do.

A lot of people forget that Nitish was the first major Indian politician to have called Modi a future Prime Minister. I don't smell any personal dislike between the two. It would be good for Modi that someone of Nitish's caliber will now be Opposition Leader.

I just hope Nitish does not engage in knee jerk opposition. India needs thoughtful, constructive opposition, the kind Shashi Tharoor has offered at times.


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