Anyone who has covered Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar for the last three decades knows that he never loses his temper, at least not in the public and definitely not when he is around media-persons.
Whenever a controversy has erupted or the media has pointed fingers at him, he has shrugged it off with ‘you can write or show whatever you want’.
But this week, Nitish Kumar lost his cool when journalists fired questions at him during an inspection of relief camps in the flood-hit state. “In how many parts of the country and across the world have there been floods? Is water in some parts of Patna the only problem we have?” the Bihar CM snapped back at a female journalist and asked if similar questions were raised during the floods in Mumbai and in the US.
This unexpected reaction from a usually cool Nitish Kumar immediately grabbed headlines. And that’s why he is ThePrint’s Newsmaker of the Week.
Who to blame?
This is the second time in a year when Nitish Kumar has found himself at the receiving end of media’s interrogation. In June this year, he evaded questions on the children’s deaths in Bihar, attributed to acute encephalitis syndrome (AES).
Now, with Bihar facing massive floods in which more than 40 people have already died, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is receiving criticism from all corners, including ally BJP, for lack of preparedness and mismanagement. The state’s capital, Patna, is facing acute water-logging.
Nitish Kumar while admitting that the city’s water pumps were not working blamed the urban development ministry, which is under BJP’s Suresh Kumar Sharma, for “far from satisfactory” work.
In fact, JD(U) insiders say that Nitish’s anger is not just at the media but also at ally BJP. The Bihar CM, they say, is angry because he believes that he is being hauled up for problems that should ideally be addressed by BJP-run departments. During the Bihar children deaths, they say, while Nitish earned all the brickbats, health minister and BJP leader Mangal Pandey remained unscathed.
But Thursday evening, Bihar’s urban development minister said at a closed-door meeting with the BJP workers that officials in his department don’t heed to his orders, thereby suggesting that he doesn’t have any control over his department.
Cracks in alliance
Nitish’s diminishing clout in the BJP-JD(U) alliance in Bihar is perhaps another reason for his anger and frustration.
When the Janata Dal (United) chief walked out of the grand alliance in 2017, he was one of the most prized catch for Narendra Modi and Amit Shah’s BJP. Both the parties contested on an equal number of seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
However, with the BJP getting a mandate on its own, JD(U)’s demand for more ministerial berths at the Centre was denied. To add salt to Nitish’s wounds, sources said that it was BJP national general secretary Bhupender Yadav and not Amit Shah who recently asked him to concede a seat in the Rajya Sabha for the BJP. Nitish, however, did it.
The signs are ominous. Modi-Shah’s BJP no longer needs Nitish Kumar’s JD(U). And by walking out of the grand alliance in 2017, he has burnt the bridges with the opposition (RJD and Congress).
With Bihar set to go to polls next year, Nitish Kumar is now facing his do-or-die moment in politics.