1 October 2012: In the last leg of the race for prime-ministership, Nitish Kumar may be fouling up his chances. His demand for special status for Bihar and his month-long "Adhikar Yatra" to gain that status from the Centre cannot bring him political dividend, but rather damage his carefully-crafted image of an independent, visionary and self-sustaining chief minister. The next time around Raj Thackeray launches one of his mindless campaigns against so-called "outsiders" in Bombay, Nitish Kumar will have no face to speak of "Bihari pride", because he is busy washing it down the gutter.

Centre-state relations have never been one of give-and-take in India, not certainly in regimes of Congress which have controlled Delhi for most of the post-independence decades. The A.B.Vajpayee government was an exception to this trend, a fact admitted by (former chief ministers) Digvijay Singh and Ajit Jogi during an election campaign in North India. Indeed, both praised Vajpayee for his even-handed treatment of NDA- and opposition-ruled states.

Congress's political history has always been transactional. It is on particular and full display now. Because Gujarat is a spectacular growth story, the Manmohan Singh government cannot hope to make it dependent and supplicatory, however much it hates Narendra Modi's guts. But dial J.Jayalalithaa, and she will have a litany of complaints against the Centre. Ditto for Naveen Patnaik and Mamata Bannerjee, although her case is well-known. The petty Union government nixed the bailout package for West Bengal after Mamata pulled out of UPA. Political geography is all that counts for Congress.

Given this record of beggar-my-ally, Nitish Kumar can forget about special status for Bihar, especially till he remains with NDA. Congress expects him to come crawling, do worse than Mulayam Singh Yadav to get what he wants, and then, after everything, it may not deliver, keeping special status as its own poll promise for Bihar. In the game of politics, you cannot get more cut-throat than Congress, but should Nitish Kumar expect better? Who is he threatening with the "Adhikar Yatra"? The Congress regime? He has got his sums all wrong.

Victimhood plays a role in Indian politics, but not in the sense it works for Andhra Pradesh, say, or Jammu and Kashmir, although the case of J and K is different for historical reasons. Congress has been battered on the rock of Andhra pride before, and the next general elections will provide more shocks for the party in the state. Nor is Bihar in the category of Tamil Nadu, which was consumed by anti-Hindi agitations for a time; or West Bengal under CPI-M rule. Regionalism is a strong factor in Bihar politics, but Nitish Kumar can't bring it to peak on his demand of special status for the state. Politics does not work that way.

Nitish Kumar has been chief minister of Bihar since 2005. He is on his second term. After Laloo Prasad's evisceration of the state, he has done a capital job of rescuing Bihar. Neglected infrastructure is looking up. The law-and-order situation has improved. Peace and stability have returned to the state. On a narrow base, growth has been strong. But rapid industrialization is not happening. The separation of Jharkhand with his manufacturing assets and mineral wealth has hurt Bihar. And yet, Nitish Kumar is wrongheaded to demand special status. It is certainly not a matter of right as he claims.

Quite apart from real problems of granting such status to Bihar, Biharis will not be quite appreciative of their chief minister seeking this. It is not an emotional issue like sharing of river waters which unites all political parties in a state. The opposition will accuse Nitish Kumar of giving up on his job, and diverting attention from his own inability to deliver. This will find traction with the electorate. Already, Nitish Kumar's "Adhikar Yatra" has faced protests and disruptions from deprived sections, and there has been resort to strong-arm tactics from the ruling side which has brought criticism from its BJP ally. There is a feeling that Nitish Kumar is rushing things to beat Narendra Modi to the prime-ministership. If so, Nitish Kumar is on a weak wicket. By his ill-advised "Adhikar Yatra", he may lose Bihar, and not stand a chance in Delhi.

Nitish Kumar should return full time to being chief minister of Bihar. That is where his salvation lies.