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Chief Minister of Bihar Nitish Kumar

“Politics is the art of the possible,” the German statesman Otto Von Bismarck once said. And who understands that better than Nitish Kumar, the modern architect of realpolitik, who has survived many headwinds to secure a fourth consecutive term as Prime Minister of Bihar despite his party finishing a poor third in the assembly. state of 243 members?

Nitish Kumar’s unusual ability to spot friends has gotten him where he is despite a drastic drop in his party’s electoral fortunes, which won just 43 seats, up from 71 in 2015, and 31 fewer than the ally. BJP, who got 74.

The most atypical of politicians due to his rise to post-Mandal politics, Nitish Kumar was noted for his ability to address the governance deficit, unlike most of the socialist stable-bred race, but was often accused to pursue opportunistic policies.

Call it political opportunism or sagacity, his moves, in effect, prevented Hindutva forces from dominating Bihar, where a section of the BJP is mortified that it does not have its own prime minister to date despite enjoying near-hegemonic status at the national level. .

Known for carefully weighing his options before making any moves, Kumar, on taking a closer look, presents himself as a risk taker who has not shied away from going against the grain.

An engineer by training who had been active in the JP movement, Kumar turned down a job offer from the state electricity department and decided to take a political risk, a rarity among the educated youth of Bihar for whom “sarkaari naukri” remains the appeal. without diminishing.

Unlike Lalu Prasad and Ram Vilas Paswan, his fellow travelers during the movement led by Jayaprakash Narayan, electoral success eluded Kumar for a long time.

He first tasted victory, after three consecutive defeats, in the 1985 assembly elections when he won Harnaut as the Lok Dal candidate, although Congress swept the elections with the tailwind generated by the assassination of Indira Gandhi el last year.

Four years later he entered the Lok Sabha from Barh, including when his fellow MP from Saran Lalu Prasad moved to Bihar, assuming the post of prime minister and writing a spectacular success story that altered the political landscape of the state.

Kumar, one of the most eloquent leaders of the Janata Dal, had fully endorsed Lalu in the intensely fought internal contest for the post of chief minister.

The following decade and a half saw the rise of Prasad as one of the most powerful but controversial figures of his time who ruled the state by proxy, getting his demure wife Rabri Devi chosen as his successor, when a charge sheet in fraud of fodder made him resign as prime minister.

During the same period, Kumar burned his bridges with Prasad, floated the Samata Party, and built his own political edifice brick by brick.

The Samata Party joined forces with the BJP and Kumar made a mark as a prominent parliamentarian and was counted among the competent ministers in Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s cabinet.

After a rift between Sharad Yadav, the then president of Janata Dal, and Lalu Prasad, the latter broke up and formed the RJD. The Samata Party merged with Sharad Yadav’s Janata Dal while continuing its alliance with the BJP.

After the NDA lost power in 2004, a victory in Bihar offered the promise of a degree of redemption for the BJP-led alliance.

Attempts to seize power from the RJD-Congress combination, then also in power in the Center, after the NDA failed to achieve a majority in the February 2005 assembly polls, were hampered by the controversial decision. Governor Buta Singh to dissolve the assembly without even having been constituted, in the face of an alleged barter.

This, however, turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Kumar, who was projected as the leading ministerial candidate in the elections that took place nine months later, and the combined JD (U) -BJP won a comfortable majority, leading to the call “Lalu was” at an end.

Kumar’s first five years as prime minister are remembered with admiration even by critics, marked as they were by the vast improvement in law and order, although the new administration had no shortage of people with criminal records among its bases.

Fully realizing that, unlike Lalu, he did not have the advantage of belonging to a populous caste group, Kumar created sub-quotas between the OBC and the Dalits called “Ati Pichhda” (EBC) and “Mahadalits”. which was resented by the dominant Yadavs and Dusadhs, Paswan’s caste companions.

He also introduced measures such as free bicycles and school uniforms for the girls who went to school, which earned him much adulation and the exuberant atmosphere of the public saw him return to power in 2010, leading the JD (U) -BJP coalition to a landslide victory in the country. Assembly surveys.

The period, however, also saw the end of the “Atal-Advani era” in the BJP and Kumar, who could not fathom the potential of his then Gujaratian counterpart Narendra Modi, was confronted by the post-Godhra riots. in the western state. .

Flaunting his secular ideology, Kumar had managed to prevent Modi, seen as a polarizing figure due to the Gujarat riots, from campaigning for BJP Bihar in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls and the assembly elections a year later. , something that still irritates the hardliners of Hindutva.

Finally, he severed his party’s 17-year ties with the BJP in 2013 when Modi was anointed head of the BJP campaign committee for the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

After parting ways with the BJP, he won a vote of confidence with the support of Congress, but resigned in 2014, taking the moral responsibility for the beating of the JD (U) in the Lok Sabha elections, when the party returned with a gloomy count of only two.

In less than a year, he was once again prime minister, elbowing his rebel protégé Jitan Ram Manjhi with broad support from the RJD and Congress, and came to be seen nationally as a potential challenger to Modi.

The Grand Alliance that emerged from the union of JD (U), Congress and RJD, won the 2017 assembly polls handsomely, but fell apart in just two years, after Kumar insisted that Lalu’s son and Senior Deputy Minister Tejashwi Yadav, whose name had come up in a money laundering case related to the time when RJD supreme was the railroad minister, “clarifies” the issue.

He abruptly resigned as prime minister when the RJD refused to budge, only to be back in office in less than 24 hours with the support of the BJP.

Those who saw a “secular alternative” in Kumar were disappointed and shouted betrayal of the “public mandate”.

Nitish Kumar, though weakened by electoral setbacks, is back on the bench, disproving the prophets of doom.

But the mechanical engineer will have to muster all his skills to keep the government machinery running as he navigates the NDA ship through the tricky waters of coalition politics, where tail wagging the dog may not be easy.

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