Patna: He has built long-delayed bridges and re-laid roads that had ceased to exist, appointed over 100,000 school teachers, ensured that doctors work in primary health centres, and kept criminals in check. Now Bihar's Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is seeking votes in the name of development - in a state that had forgotten what governance was all about.
And in what could only be a rarity in Indian politics, the ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been called a 'secular' politician even by Marxist leader Prakash Karat. Nitish Kumar is making waves in a state whose 40 Lok Sabha seats could well decide who gets to rule India.
With three rounds of polling over in Bihar, Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal-United (JD-U) and the BJP are claiming victory following the collapse of the alliance between the Congress and its partners Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Lok Janshakti Party (LJP). Three constituencies in Bihar will see polling May 7.
With a hung parliament a strong possibility after votes polled in the Indian general elections are counted May 16, Nitish Kumar is already being wooed by all sides.
'More and more politicians are flocking to the chief minister in the belief that he is bound to play an important role in the formation of the next government,' JD-U legislator Gayanu Singh said.
Realising that the certificates he has got from the Left is worrying the BJP, Nitish Kumar has said repeatedly that he very much remains in the NDA and will be glued to the BJP-led coalition. 'I am in the NDA, I won't break ties with the BJP and (BJP leader) L.K. Advani will be the prime minister if the NDA comes to power,' he has been thundering at election rallies.
But JD-U leaders close to the chief minister said that Communist leaders and others including from the Congress were in touch with him to seek possible support after the polls. Nitish Kumar has hinted that he is not open to the Congress but is ready to talk to others.
Nitish Kumar's stock has gone up because his development plank has become a magic word for the JD-U and the BJP in a state sick and tired of empty election promises.
'Development during Nitish Kumar's 40-month rule in Bihar is sure to help us win the elections. We are more confident than ever before,' senior JD-U leader Shivanand Tiwari said.
So much so that even the BJP is seeking votes in the name of Nitish Kumar, rather than the Ram temple of Ayodhya.
RJD chief Lalu Prasad and LJP leader Ram Vilas Paswan - both friends turned foes of Nitish Kumar - have also been forced to promise development if they return to power in Bihar.
They also claim that the development Bihar has been made possible with money provided by the central government of which they are a part.
'Thanks to Nitish Kumar, development has become an election issue and is likely to leave its impact on the election result. The caste factor very much exists but development has changed social equations,' said Tiwari of the JD-U.
'Nitish is hardly missing a chance to remind people that the rule of law has been established, more than 30,000 criminals have been convicted, kidnapping has become a thing of the past, roads have been constructed on a large scale, and government schools and hospitals are functioning.'
Bihar is one of India's poorest states, with nearly 50 percent of its 83 million people living below the poverty line. Since coming to power in 2005, Nitish Kumar is now claiming that he has made a dramatic difference to the lives of millions.
The chief minister also hopes that his criticism of BJP's Varun Gandhi - who allegedly made derogatory statements about Muslims and got jailed for the crime - would stand him in good stead among Muslim voters of Bihar.
(Imran Khan can be contacted at email@example.com)