NEW DELHI (THE STATESMAN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Just how did Nitish Kumar pull it off? Likely to be sworn-in for a record fifth term as Chief Minister of the politically important state of Bihar unless he declines the post or in the unlikely event the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wants it for itself, he is that rare species - a relatively clean politician - in India today.
So, first up, and to that extent, the electorate can congratulate itself for overlooking many grievances and voting back to power the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) alliance he heads in the state.
But it must be underlined that the NDA has just about squeaked past the winning post; Bihar 2020 has not been a resounding win by any yardstick.
Then there is the fact that Janata Dal-United (JDU) has come in third in terms of numbers, well behind its principal opponent the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and its erstwhile junior partner, the BJP.
The fact that a non-NDA, non-Mahagathbandhan grouping of the AIMIM, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) plus sundries cut into what the Opposition alliance believed were votes which otherwise would have come into its kitty, especially in the Muslim-dominated Seemanchal region, also played a role in keeping the NDA's nose ahead.
Anecdotal evidence backed by initial voting statistics suggests it was the large turnout of women voters, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's undisputed mass appeal, the lingering trauma among a large section of the electorate of 15 years of Lalu PrasadRabri Devi rule, and Nitish Kumar's reputation as a non-bombastic leader with a barely disguised disdain for political theatrics who focuses on governance and not on making promises he cannot keep, which worked in the NDA's favour.
There is, of course, talk of Nitish Kumar's stature having been 'diminished' by this tight result and widespread conjecture that future electoral battles will be fought between the BJP and the RJD in Bihar.
But that is for tomorrow. For today, the most important takeaway from the Bihar Assembly poll is that in a land where caste-community mobilisation and sharing the spoils of public office with the simpatico have always been the key to success at the hustings, Kumar's consistent emphasis on, and a measure of delivery of, sushaasan or good governance has made a difference.
It hasn't done away with caste and community arithmetic, but it has raised the expectations of Bihar's voters.
Perhaps the most important learning from the Bihar poll, the first conducted in times of Covid19, is that in a crisis - and it doesn't get bigger than a global health pandemic that's destroyed the lives and livelihoods of millions as the exodus of migrant workers from big cities to their native state brought home to us a few months ago - people are willing to forgive lapses in administration, even grievous ones, but won't tolerate being misled.
For all that he could have done better, Kumar expressly did not do the latter.
In voting for the "double-engine" template promised by Narendra Modi and endorsed by Nitish Kumar, Bihar has signalled it is ready to be realistic but won't compromise on development.
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