Infosys chairman N.R. Narayana Murthy is wont to emphasize the importance of “excellence in execution”. The elections in Bihar which returned the Janata Dal (United)-Bharatiya Janata Party coalition to a second term in office, emphasize the importance of this phrase in politics.
Nitish Kumar managed to overcome the handicap of a caste base by successfully bending the electoral discourse towards development. Not only did this outsmart his political opponents who preferred to play the conventional caste card, it also forced the BJP to dilute its own right-wing rhetoric and instead tread a middle path.
The saffron-lite version of the party’s campaign excluded Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi and young turk Varun Gandhi, and was highlighted by the absence of the usual right-wing religious rhetoric. Significantly, BJP’s greater emphasis on economic aspirations seems to have clicked with the electorate of Bihar, with the party returning a spectacular performance.
If indeed it is a fresh beginning for this party, and it makes this the national electoral template as it readies for another shy at grabbing political power at the Centre in 2014, then BJP would assume a very centrist position in Indian politics; something similar to what is on offer from the Congress. In that case, the real difference between the two largest national political parties would come down to what Murthy described as excellence in execution. This is easier said than done, because it requires the winner to guarantee good governance.
Kumar’s victory is, therefore, that much more significant because he seems to have delivered on this promise of public good. It was premised on his unique governance model of disintermediation that allowed him to bypass traditional power centres. By providing road connectivity at an incredible pace—2,417km in 2008-09 compared with 415km in 2005-06—Kumar brought the consumer closer to the producer. Similarly, he ensured higher turnout of teachers and students in schools, and laid the basis for social empowerment of the under-privileged. Last but not the least, he launched an experiment of creating self-help groups powered by women across the state. In the process, his regime created an entirely new set of stakeholders, who no doubt have played a crucial role in returning Kumar to power (as indicated by the higher turnout of women in the elections).
The challenge now for the chief minister is to replicate this experience. It will not be easy, as the expectations of the people of Bihar have been stoked. The old template may have already run its course and new ideas would be required. If Kumar succeeds, the state of Bihar will stand out as a worthy example for the nation.
Has development trumped caste politics in Bihar? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org