“I shall be in power, by hook or by crook, but once I have power I will do good work,” a 26-year-old Nitish Kumar is believed to have said, according to a book by a leading journalist.
Kumar banged his table at Patna’s Indian Coffee House as he announced this to an audience that was discussing alleged corruption in Bihar in 1977, writes Sankarshan Thakur in his biography of Kumar — The Brothers Bihari.
Forty-five years hence as Kumar was administered oath as chief minister of Bihar for the eighth time — relegating the Bharatiya Janata Party to the Opposition space again and elevating the Rashtriya Janata Dal to power in no time — his critics say he has remained true to what he raged, at the least the first part of it.
“Satta prapt karoonga, by hook or by crook, lekin satta le ke achha kam karoonga. (I shall be in power, by hook or by crook, but once I have power I will do good work),” Kumar had said.
Thakur writes that this was a cry of a dejected young man who could not win, as a Janata Party candidate, his Harnaut assembly seat in the 1977 Bihar elections when a mere non-Congress ticket meant half the battle won in the post-Emergency wave.
After Kumar walked out of the National Democratic Alliance on Tuesday and joined hands with the RJD, Congress and others, Lok Janshakti Party-Ram Vilas leader Chirag Paswan lambasted him.
“For Nitish Kumar,” he said, “It has always been about the kursi (satta or power). He wants to remain chief minister.”
“Is it a joke? At one time you go with somebody and the other with someone else.”
Kumar, his longtime deputy BJP leader Sushil Modi and RJD supremo Lalu Yadav were contemporaries in students’ politics at Patna University.
Kumar split with Lalu Prasad in 1994 and formed the Samata Party with George Fernandes and others.
He became chief minister for the first time in 2005 with the help of the BJP and has remained in the post since, except for a 10-month period when he installed Dalit leader Jitan Ram Manjhi following the JD-U’s drubbing in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
Kumar has now ruled Bihar for 17 years, earning accolades for his administrative acumen, and derision by his rivals for his political maneuvering that saw him helm eight different governments in the state.
He got sobriquets such as ‘Sushasan babu’ (a man of governance) and ‘Mr clean’ for the “good work” he has done, and contemptuous aliases such as ‘Paltu Ram’ (a man of U-turns) and ‘Kursi Kumar’ (one who sticks to chair) for somehow managing to stay in power.
Shiv Sena leader Priyanka Chaturvedi said, “Nitish Kumar has been an ally who keeps changing his mind often. This is one thing that goes against him, the dependability factor.”
Kumar’s Tuesday break-up with the BJP was their second parting. The first came about on June 16, 2013 when he broke the 17-year-old alliance with the BJP after it announced Narendra Modi as its campaign committee chief for the 2014 polls, before formally declaring him the NDA’s prime ministerial candidate.
As for the RJD and the Congress, he first aligned with them just before the 2015 elections to counter the BJP, which threatened to blow away its rivals in the tailwind of the massive 2014 victory.
The Mahagathbandhan — as the alliance was called — withheld the BJP force and ruled for 20 months.
But in mid-2017, he decided to join hands with the BJP again as RJD leader and his then deputy Tejashwi Yadav faced corruption charges, and Kumar thought it dented his clean image.
The 2017 alliance with the BJP carried through to the Lok Sabha polls in 2019 and the state elections the next year.
In the 2020 elections, while the BJP won 74 seats, Kumar’s JD-U got just 43 seats.
But the chief minister again was Kumar.
The BJP had kept its pre-poll promise to accept him as the alliance’s leader.
Seeds of discord in the alliance were, however, sown during the 2020 campaign itself when some in the JD-U alleged that Chirag Paswan was propped up by the BJP to field candidates against Kumar’s party to cut into its vote share.
The BJP denied the change but the bickering grew overtime and the tipping point came when the two parties exchanged jibes and allegations after the JD-U did not renew RCP Singh’s Rajya Sabha tenure, forcing him to resign as a Union minister.
The two allies also did not stand together on multiple issues including the Citizenship Amendment Act, Agnipath defence recruitment scheme, and caste census.
With the tension simmering for months, Kumar on Tuesday decided he could no longer be in that alliance.
He resigned as NDA chief minister, and within hours staked claim to form a new government with the RJD, Congress and others.
The BJP reacted angrily, predicated doom for the new government and challenged Kumar to show he can win an election on his own.
“There is no other reason for the turnaround except his prime ministerial ambitions which make him envious of Prime Minister Narendra Modi,” said Union minister Giriraj Singh, the chief minister’s best known detractor in the state.
“He should first try to win a state election on his own, without using an alliance as a crutch.”
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