Janata Dal (United) president Nitish Kumar has distinguished himself as a leader who ruled Bihar for the longest time, without his party ever winning a majority on its own.
Behind this feat, which demonstrates his political acumen and survival instinct, lies the fact that the 72-year-old leader was never able to remain at peace with his allies, which also caused him to change partners frequently.
“Nitish Kumar’s name deserves to enter the Guinness Book of Records for the number of times he has aligned, abandoned and realigned with the BJP,” was a wry comment by Congress MLA from Bhagalpur Ajeet Sharma.
Sharma also quoted Kumar’s famous remark “mitti mein mil jaayenge magar BJP ke saath nahin jaaenge” (I will be relegated to dust instead of returning to the BJP), soon after he first severed his ties with the saffron party in 2013, following his objections to the national rise of Narendra Modi, his then counterpart from Gujarat.
It is not surprising that, in a political career spanning four decades, the accusation of “opportunism” and names like ‘Paltu Ram’ have stuck out like a sore thumb, although there has been no shortage of admirers who remember him for keeping the stains of corruption, nepotism and misgovernment, and never give in to religious majoritarianism.
Born on March 1, 1951 in Bakhtiyarpur, a nondescript town on the outskirts of Patna, to an Ayurvedic practitioner and freedom fighter father, Kumar is an electrical engineer by training.
During his days at Bihar Engineering College, now known as NIT, Patna, he became active in student politics and became associated with the “JP movement”, which introduced him to many of his future associates, including Lalu Prasad and Sushil Kumar Modi. , who were later, respectively, president and general secretary of the Patna University Students’ Union.
His first electoral success came in the 1985 assembly elections, which the Congress swept, although he managed to win the Harnaut seat for the Lok Dal.
Five years later, he moved to Delhi as an MP from the now abolished seat of Barh.
After another half decade, when the Mandal wave was at its peak and Prasad was reaping its dividends, Kumar sided with George Fernandes to emerge the Samata Party, which later morphed into the JD(U)) and share power with the BJP in the Center and, from 2005, in the state.
His first five years as Chief Minister are remembered with admiration even by critics, marked by great improvements in restoring law and order in a state that made headlines for massacres with rival militias and kidnappings for ransom.
As a result of the Mandal agitation, the Kurmi leader also realized that he did not have the advantage of belonging to a populous caste group and created sub-quotas between OBCs and Dalits who were called “Ati Pichhda” (EBC) and Mahadalits, a decision This was resented by the dominant Yadavs and Dusadhs (Paswan supporters).
His government recently increased quotas for all underprivileged classes, a move he hoped would give a boost to his party’s flagging fortunes and also inspire parties in other states, which had joined him to form the opposition bloc INDIA .
Kumar also sponsored the Muslim “Pasmanda”, which, apart from his ability to keep Hindutva vigilantes at bay, endeared him to the minority community despite his links with the BJP.
After his breakup with the BJP in 2013, Kumar still survived in power as the JD(U), then just a few members short of a majority, got outside support from parties like the Congress and the CPI, as well as a disaffected faction of the RJD. . A year later, however, he resigned due to moral responsibility for the JD(U)’s defeat in the Lok Sabha elections.
In less than a year, he returned as Chief Minister, ousting his rebel protégé Jitan Ram Manjhi, this time armed with widespread support from the RJD and the Congress.
The Grand Alliance that emerged with the merger of JD(U), Congress and RJD, won the 2015 assembly elections comprehensively, but fell apart in just two years. Kumar returned to the NDA in 2017, hoping to gain some traction after taking a stance against his then deputy Tejashwi Yadav’s corruption.
Five years later, he became disillusioned with the BJP again, blaming it for the JD(U)’s debacle in the 2020 assembly elections, when Chirag Paswan fielded many BJP rebels on the lists of his Lok Janshakti party.
By August 2022, he was back in the Mahagathbandhan or Grand Alliance, which now also included three left parties.
Although he retained his chair, Kumar indicated that he had had enough and wanted to mentor Yadav, again as his deputy, as his political successor in the state while striving with great vigor to bring together all the political groups opposed to the BJP, with the hope of a Janata Party-like formation that could, as in the post-Emergency elections, achieve a victory against a seemingly invincible regime.
As host of the first meeting of like-minded parties, held in Patna last year, he was widely regarded as the architect of the INDIAN opposition front which, however, resisted naming him its convener and pestered him with suggestions such as projecting the elder Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge as Prime Ministerial candidate.
Kumar had also been very upset by the delay in seat-sharing agreements and the inability of united front voters to resolve differences, as was evident in West Bengal and Punjab.
However, he remained confident that better days lay ahead for his party thanks to his government’s recent populist measures, which is why he was said to have toyed with the idea of dissolving the assembly and going to the polls early.
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