The two brand icons of Bihar are two unlikely leaders. While Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is a hands-on man, his political rival Lalu Prasad is a political hypnotist who lulled the state with his rhetoric, says veteran journalist, filmmaker and author Arun Sinha.
"If you can compare Lalu Prasad with Nitish Kumar - Lalu indulged in 90 percent realpolitik and 10 percent governance. Nitish on the other hand is 90 percent governance and 10 percent realpolitik," Sinha told IANS.
"Nitish Kumar has a hands-on approach. He does not watch television; he does not listen to music. He is a workaholic - sometimes to the point of being boring. He connects to people with reality. He has been trying to set up governance, put in place systems - and get the bureaucracy going. He has turned around primary education, health, roads, law and order," Sinha said.
The Goa-based writer has documented the political journey of Nitish Kumar and Bihar in his new book, "Nitish Kumar and the Rise of Bihar" (Penguin India) in the context of the quest for social justice and development of the state - relegated to the margins of India's progress story for the last several decades.
After a brief association with Lalu Prasad, Nitish Kumar rejected identity politics, recognising that Bihar had to transcend caste if it was to grow.
The 60-year-old politician from the backward Kurmi community first became chief minister of Bihar in 2000. He was re-elected in 2010 to the state of 104 million people. The politician with socialist leanings was also a union minister in the erstwhile National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government.
Lalu Prasad was "a politician, a hero and a political hypnotist whom people believed and reposed their faith in", the writer said.
"It was during the end of Lalu Raj - I thought of doing a book on India's caste dynamics, but it got stuck midway. After the first term of Nitish Kumar, I thought of putting together a book on the man behind the movement of the state forward. He is the main actor today," Sinha said.
The writer travelled through the villages of Bihar to capture the change.
"The first thing that struck me during my journey through the villages of Bihar is an erosion in the sense of fatalism. The feeling, 'bhagwan ne jo diya wohi sahi... (whatever god has given, I have to be content with it)'. Earlier, the poor used to think that whatever was given to them - like subsidy, education or a panchayat job - was given by god. The trend started with Lalu. He was a hero of the downtrodden. But the confirmation of a collective urge of the 1980s is now showing...people don't believe in fate any more," he said.
Nobody wants to be a farmer any more - everyone wants a white-collared job, Sinha said.
"As a result, farm wages have increased and there is shortage of labour. The downtrodden (like the Scheduled Castes and Dalits) has a voice," the writer said.
"Earlier, a Dalit was not allowed to wear shoes or comb his hair. They would be beaten up. Migration has changed the whole thing...there is a sense of liberation. The second generation of the poor and backward caste groups wear denims, shoes and style their hair like pop icons. They work outside the state," Sinha explained.
Nitish Kumar creates double pressure to force his bureaucracy to deliver on schedule - ministerial from the top and people's pressure from the bottom, Sinha said.
"Every Monday, he meets at least 1,000 people in a 'junta durbar'," Sinha recalled.
"The accused of the nearly 25 big caste massacres during Lalu's tenure are being brought to justice and punished. The private militias are disbanding. The catchment area of the Naxals in villages is also shrinking because of Nitish Kumar's speedy trial mechanisms and redressal of grassroots grievances... he is listening to the problems of the poor," Sinha said.
Development is the elephant Bihar has to ride on to the future. "Any chief minister or political system in Bihar has to focus on development and maintain the growth rate of 10-11 percent," Sinha said.
Sinha, who was assistant director to well-known filmmaker Shyam Benegal for his television series "Bharat Ek Khoj", from 1986 to 1990, has authored a novel, "The Hedonist Empire"; and a critical portrait of post-Liberation Goa, "Goa Indica".
His 1980 expose on the Bhagalpur blindings earned him the first Reuters fellowhip from India to Oxford in 1983 to work on a book about India's rural poor.
(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at email@example.com)