2012, Islamabad, Reportage, Telegraph Calcutta

Captain Nitish on Imran turf

Sankarshan Thakur, The Telegraph

Islamabad, Nov. 14: Never before in his career as cricketer or as politician has Imran Khan vacated his high head-of-the- table seat.

On the sprawling hillside lawns of his Bani Galla estate yesterday afternoon, the towering icon in crisp salwar suit made way for a diminutive man in creased khaddar and sat listening to a lecture he has hitherto assumed to be his sole prerogative, whether it was the cricket dressing room or the party parlours of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf.

“Main yahan koi takreer nahin karne wala, Nitishbhai, I and my team have much to learn from you, questions to ask and answers to find, so this floor is yours,” Imran announced as soon as the Bihar chief minister spilled out onto the manor terrace. Thereon, for an hour and a little more, he was rapt, apprentice-like, ingesting Nitish Kumar’s governance mantra, cricket’s emperor gathering the ropes of the new realm he is bidding to conquer: government.

Nitish had but one fundamental philosophy to preach — be honest to purpose, be consistent, be relentless, governance is an everyday battle. “The day you relax yourself or the rules, it’s over,” he said. “I am not a charismatic man, I have done nothing great, I have done simple things but I have tried to do them honestly and with purpose, there is no great mystery to governance.” Having said that, though, Nitish took time over his tutorial. And why not? He had a captive, and captivated, audience.

The Imran XI — he had actually fielded a bigger team complete with 12th man and many more extras who sat in a quadrangle of chairs, heads bowed and ears perked in Nitish’s direction — was like a class of sophomores. Questions, eager and eliciting, issued from this side and that. How did you turn Bihar from a basket case to a success story? What have you done about corruption? What have you done about education? What should we look to do to solve problems that are so much like you faced in Bihar? And finally, from Imran himself: “As we prepare to take over the government, because Inshallah we will sweep the coming election, what would you say is the key to good governance? You have become, after all, the leading light in that area, what you have achieved is nothing short of magical and we want to translate some of that here when we come to power in a few months.” Ahem! Nitish quietly swallowed both the conceit and the commendation laced into the inquire and came to the question itself. “Look, all that I really did was to create an atmosphere where good governance could prosper. The first thing is to establish the rule of law, and that became our first priority. Criminals of no matter what shade of politics, were arrested, cases fast-tracked and convictions done. In my first tenure alone we were able to secure 74,000 convictions, the message went out that nonsense will not be tolerated. The rest followed. We have a problem with crime and corruption in these parts, if governments show the will to tackle them, half the job is done.”

Imran nodded, and his team followed in unison. Nitish carried on. “There are some other elementary things — transparency, strong deterrence to official and political dereliction, education and women’s empowerment. We have done things that others want to follow now, even the central government now wants to give 50 per cent reservation to women in local bodies and distribute uniforms and cycles to schoolgirls, good things are infectious too. And it is most important to set an example. In Bihar, all politicians and bureaucrats, irrespective of grade and seniority, have to publish yearly statements of assets.”

Ah, Imran happily sighed, finally a claim he too could lay. “You know that is one thing we have done in my party, all senior leaders have to mandatorily publish their assets along with their income tax returns. But we feel encouraged to hear this from you, Nitishbhai, because this transparency is not in our political culture.”

The russet sun had dipped down across the hill, it was darkening, a wintry dew was beginning to drop and the delegation from Bihar was a bit shivered under the open sky. Imran called tea. A merry bedlam arrived instead. A jockeying unfolded for family album snaps with the star. For a whole ten or more minutes, cameras flashed, the high and mighty of Bihar nudged and edged around Imran like adolescents for that one picture they will treasure all their lives.

Nitish padded back from the tea tables, cup in hand, and begged a promise of Imran in pure jest. “Aap hum jaise naacheez ki kuchch zyada hi tareef karte hain, itna mat keejiye log humse jalne lagenge. (You praise an ordinary man like me too much, don’t do it too brown, people will start getting jealous of me.)” Imran took him by the arms and said, “Main kuchch zyadati nahin karta, aap hi ko dar lagta hai ki kaheen pradhan mantri naa ban jaayen. (I exaggerate nothing, it is you who are afraid of the prospect of becoming Prime Minister one day.)”

That would have made Nitish Kumar’s Diwali. Night had fallen and the lights were popping on all across Islamabad city at the foot of the Bani Galla hills, like someone had strewn stars on earth, or had lit it up for the festival. For Nitish Kumar, the night was about to get even brighter. As he drove off, word arrived the President, Asif Ali Zardari, had formally invited him home for dinner; that’s not an invitation the Pakistan presidency often sends out to visiting chief ministers.

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