By Rajesh Singh @rajeshsingh1958
Sankarshan Thakur’s book, Single Man, is a fascinating account of Nitish Kumar’s rise to power through a mix of talent and crafty manipulation. It also points to the Bihar Chief Minister’s deep desire to be Prime Minister
Towards the end of his engaging book, Single Man: The Life and Times of Nitish Kumar of Bihar, journalist and author Sankarshan Thakur observes: “Many see Nitish’s decision to jettison the BJP on the Modi issue as rooted in his own ambition to become India’s Prime Minister. They are probably right in believing that the desire exists — though Nitish has repeatedly rebuffed even the suggestion of it…”
Mr Thakur quotes a conversation he had with the Chief Minister in the winter of 2009, when the latter dismissed the suggestion that he was angling for a prime ministerial position. “Badi-badi baatein hain” (All this is big talk), he said, adding, “Mujhe kuch nahin banna, Bihar ko banana hai” (I don’t wish to become anything; I want to make Bihar).
This self-confessed noble intent has remained Mr Nitish Kumar’s calling card on selflessness for years, and more so after he broke off the alliance with the BJP in mid-2013 over Mr Narendra Modi’s projection as a prime ministerial candidate. But now that mask is off. A few days ago, the Chief Minister virtually threw his hat into the ring when he gloated over the 2012-13 growth figures of the State that the Central Statistics Office had put out. “All these people who are roaming around, am I any less in comparison?” he demanded to know. Nobody was left in any doubt as to who the “all these people” he was referring to, were. In fact, the plural sense he employed was a play of words; he was targeting just one individual: Mr Modi.
Interestingly, Mr Thakur’s analysis that Mr Nitish Kumar wants to become the Prime Minister, found echo in the BJP prime ministerial candidate’s speech at a public rally in Purnea in Bihar on Monday. Mr Modi alleged that the Janata Dal(U) leader had snapped the alliance with the BJP because Mr Nitish Kumar, in an over-estimation of his ability, wanted to become the Prime Minister.
It is true that Mr Modi’s endorsement as the prime ministerial nominee of the largest partner in the National Democratic Alliance had effectively shut the doors on any hope that Mr Nitish Kumar may have entertained of emerging as a consensus candidate within the coalition, and could have hastened his departure from the combine. But Mr Thakur has a different take, although he agrees with the premise that Mr Nitish Kumar wants to become the Prime Minister. He says in the book that analysts may have “erred in assuming Nitish and Modi are competing along the same timeline.”
In the author’s view, “Modi is playing for the 2014 vote. Nitish is not… He (Nitish) can be monumentally patient and work beaver-like to achieve his hour.” Mr Thakur’s book is replete with instances of how Mr Nitish Kumar bided his time even as he swallowed one insult after another during Lalu Prasad’s heydays. The author believes that the Chief Minister “doesn’t yet possess a winner social coalition in Bihar. His provincial JDU offers no organisational match to the elaborate BJP network that backs Narendra Modi… for the moment he may just be content to play an ant crawling up the elephant’s snout and causing it to trip.” If that is indeed the case, it does appear from the way things are unravelling for the JD(U) in Bihar, where opinion polls are predicting that the party will end up at the bottom of the tally while the BJP will lead the list, that Mr Nitish Kumar has been showing suicidal haste in crawling up the elephant’s snout.
Mr Thakur cannot be accused of being biased against Mr Nitish Kumar. The book presents an overall positive account of the JD(U) leader and Chief Minister, based on the admirable turnaround that Mr Nitish Kumar has managed in the State. Therefore, the author’s analysis of Mr Nitish Kumar’s opportunism as he rose in his political career cannot be brushed aside as being partisan. Given that the Chief Minister has repeatedly raked up the 2002 violence in Gujarat to express his opposition to Mr Modi and presented his defence for continuing in the NDA for a good 10 years after the incident, the author’s take on the issue assumes special relevance. He writes: “When the anti-Muslim horror began to unfold in Narendra Modi’s Gujarat in 2002, Nitish came under pressure to quit the NDA. He (Modi) would lead the Gujarat Assembly campaign in 2002. How could Nitish, socialist and secular of persuasion, be supping with such like…These questions seemed not to upset Nitish. He was cold in his determination to stay, bide his time. On the odd occasion, he reasoned feebly: I am not part of Modi’s Government…”
This punctures Mr Nitish Kumar’s recent claim of breaking with the BJP on ideological grounds, and re-establishes his credentials as an opportunist who uses ideology as a smoke-screen to promote his political career.
This is not the only instance where the Chief Minister, in the course of his ascent, has dumped friends and allies along the way, and adopted tactics and endorsed personalities which suited the order of the day. Mr Thakur’s book offers more examples where Mr Nitish Kumar’s façade of morality stands dented. To begin with, he had not seen anything wrong in Lalu Prasad when he became one of the RJD leader’s key lieutenants in the early days of Lalu Prasad’s rise in politics and to power in Bihar. Even when he became disillusioned, Mr Nitish Kumar continued to back him. Worse, even after Lalu Prasad humiliated him and Mr Nitish Kumar openly signalled that the paths of the two were divergent, he continued to lurk around in the party which the then supreme leader lorded over. He did all that because he believed the time was not ripe to strike — just as he was to later continue unmoved in the NDA after the 2002 Gujarat violence, an event which he a decade later made it the primary and only cause for snapping ties with the BJP.
Mr Thakur quotes Vijay Krishna, one of Mr Nitish Kumar’s aides in the early days and who later turned against him, as saying that the latter had promoted Lalu Prasad initially because it suited his strategy. “He Nitish Kumar) put his weight behind Laloo (sic)”. The author brings in another leader (he remains unnamed in the book because the man feared trouble on identification), who emphasises: “Nitish did not play a part, he played the lead part…Perhaps in Laloo he saw a bumbler who he could remote control.”
No account of Mr Nitish Kumar’s rise to fame can be complete without remembering the manner in which he sidelined senior leaders such as George Fernandes. Mr Thakur mentions in the book that today’s Chief Minister had benefitted from the political heft of Mr Fernandes when he decided to rebel against Lalu Prasad — that is, when he eventually summoned the courage to do so — and also subsequently contest elections. He had other lieutenants since those early days that he has now ruthlessly marginalised. Mr Shivanand Tiwari is a good example.