Bulletin

The uncharacteristic Nitish Kumar of 2020

Nitish Kumar

Youngest though among his peers from the socialist school, Kumar bore in comparison

the maturity of an elder. Erudition was his strength, the economy with words a salience

that saw him spotless in the dust and grime of politics. Curt maybe he was at times —

but never crass.

A case in point is the period when he refused to engage with Narendra Modi in the run-up to the 2014 elections

for which the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had named the latter as its prime ministerial pick. He was more

cerebral than combative in his opposition to the BJP’s newly anointed mascot. Kumar shone as the fact-checker

on Modi’s speech at the much-hyped November 11, 2013, public meeting in Patna. He corrected the gaffes

without getting personal: “The BJP has amazing grasp of history. They should know that Chandragupta was of

Maurya dysnasty, not Gupta dynasty.” Showcasing Bihar as the cradle of power, learning and culture, Modi had

said the Gupta dynasty was reminiscent of Chadragupta’s rajneeti. He confused Taxila for Vikramshila to wrongly

locate in Bihar the ancient seat of learning which actually is in Pakistan. Kumar corrected him on that and

another fact of history: Modi’s praise of the Biharis for having stopped Alexander’s victory march was misplaced

as the Greek warrior never crossed the Ganges.

The Nitish Kumar one knows isn’t the Nitish Kumar one sees in these elections. Exigencies of politics have taken

a toll on the 69-year-old chief minister of Bihar. He could be pungent in his attacks on political adversaries but

was never uncivil or out of step with propriety.

A few of his remarks in the campaign are emblematic of an idiom quite alien to what one would associate with

him. Egregious by his standards was his allusion to Lalu Prasad’s large family. No vision for society’s

development can be expected, he averred, from those who lacked faith in daughters and have parented eight-

nine children in the quest for a son. The incarcerated Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) helmsman has nine children —

seven daughters and two sons, including Tejashwi Yadav, the RJD’s chief ministerial face who’s a big draw at

public rallies.

Compared to Lalu Prasad’s rustic flourish that often qualified as malarkey, Kumar came across as the best

finished product of the social justice movement. Barring the recent aberrations, he has been a sort of Amol

Palekar in an arena crowded by theatrically vociferous competitors. What set him apart was his political

etiquette. That’s why perhaps his “apne baap se poocho” retort to young voters on Prasad’s development record

left a jarring note.

Youngest though among his peers from the socialist school, Kumar bore in comparison the maturity of an elder.

Erudition was his strength, the economy with words a salience that saw him spotless in the dust and grime of

politics. Curt maybe he was at times — but never crass.

 

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