The personality and character of a person changes with time. Some act as Socialists and revolutionaries in their youth but turn into conservatives and advocates of privatisation as they age. Those who staunchly believe in democracy in their initial years often turn into supporters of totalitarianism in their waning age. This pattern of transformation is seen among common people, politicians, and bureaucrats alike. Initially, IAS, IPS officials remain very conscious of their image. After spending 15-20 years in service, that enthusiasm, passion and commitment fade.
The character graph of Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar is no different.
Nitish Kumar was once famous for his loyalty, commitment and passion towards strengthening the parliamentary system, first as a member of the Bihar legislative assembly (when he was not the chief minister) and later on as a Member of Parliament. His image has seen a drastic decline since he became chief minister, especially after 2015. This is the same Nitish Kumar who was reluctant to participate in the first rally of the ‘Luv-Kush Samaj’ in 1994, organised by CPI leader Satish Kumar, because the former didn’t want to be labeled as a casteist leader. In Bihar, two electorally important caste groups, Kurmis and Kushwahas are said to be the ancestors of Luv and Kush (the sons of Ram), respectively. Kumar was opposed to the idea of participating in a caste-based rally but attended the ‘Luv-Kush Sammelan’ held at Gandhi Maidan in Patna with a heavy heart. That was then.
The 2020 assembly elections, however, upset his equation in the state when Chirag Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party dented Kumar’s vote bank that he had nurtured for nearly two decades, thereby making him weaker of the two partners in the NDA alliance.
This explains well the merger of Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samta Party in Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United), or JD(U). Upendra Kushwaha has been appointed the chairman of the JD(U) National Parliamentary Board to consolidate the caste-based alliance of Luv-Kush Samaj. Just a few months ago, both Kumar and Kushwaha were at each other’s throat. Today, suddenly, both have become fans of one other and turned into allies—all for votes and power.
Nitish Kumar as railways minister in Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s cabinet had tendered his resignation while accepting the moral responsibility for a railway accident. However, the same Nitish Kumar now continues to occupy his post as CM of Bihar despite the heinous rapes of 34 girls in the Muzaffarpur shelter home and the Srijan scam in Bhagalpur. Apparently, his definition of ‘morality’ has changed now.
In the year 2000, when he had been sworn in as Bihar chief minister for the first time for just seven days, Nitish Kumar had tried to cobble up a majority through all kinds of tricks with the help of then MP Prabhunath Singh and several others. Kumar extended his silent support to all their nefarious activities by remaining mute. But he was forced to resign in the absence of majority support. Kumar’s morality had already come into question by then.
Again, in 2014, he resigned from the post of chief minister taking moral responsibility after the JD(U) badly lost in the Lok Sabha election. At that point, Jitan Ram Manjhi was hurriedly sworn in as chief minister. It is also known to one and all how Nitish Kumar later indulged in all kinds of endeavours to get Manjhi removed as chief minister.
In the 2020 Bihar assembly election, the JD(U) could only secure 43 seats. The ‘Cold War’ with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over the ‘elder brother-younger brother’ debate continues unabated. The arguments on morality have been forgotten.
An angry chief minister
The Bihar chief minister gets agitated very quickly these days. In November 2020, Kumar got infuriated while listening to the remarks of the leader of the Opposition, Tejashwi Yadav, on criminal cases against him in the state assembly. Those who know Nitish Kumar from close quarters have perhaps never witnessed this sort of furious behaviour. These days, he is often seen irritated.
Members of the ruling party/coalition are also openly pointing fingers at the speaker in the House. The speaker is being taunted as ‘Vyakool’ (desperate). In a parliamentary system, will such acts of degrading the speaker ever strengthen either the government or democracy? However, the chief minister is meekly watching all this.
In the past, Nitish Kumar never became visibly angry. No one had ever heard him utter a rough or abusive word. Be it a senior or junior person, he talked to all respectfully. This habit of his was cited as exemplary. But there has been a massive deterioration in his temperament.
In 2010, then chief minister of Gujarat Narendra Modi had sent relief for a flood-hit Bihar. But Nitish Kumar cancelled a dinner meeting with Modi after duly inviting him because he felt Modi was insulting the state by bragging of the relief. Later on, Nitish Kumar said he preferred to be buried in soil than join hands with the BJP again. But today he is aligning with the BJP to stay in power. He had also openly espoused the idea of making no compromise on the issue of special status of Jammu and Kashmir. But he went on to support the BJP’s abrogation of Article 370. The JD(U) now supports the BJP’s stand on all contentious issues – be it the farm laws, privatisation, Ram Mandir, or the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.
No longer democratic
The Nitish Kumar government has introduced the Bihar Special Armed Police Bill 2021. The proposed law will empower the Bihar military police to search anyone’s house without a warrant from the court or magistrate. It will give the Bihar police unlimited power. Freedom and liberty of an individual will come to end. The Opposition was rightfully opposing this Bill inside the House when — to ensure the passage of this contentious Bill — marshals and police personnel were summoned inside the House by the speaker, and the protesting MLAs were beaten up. Is this a parliamentary act?
The chief minister, fond of citing parliamentary traditions, watched in silence. He quickly absolved himself and put the entire blame on the speaker and the Opposition.
Nitish Kumar again indulged in a fit of fury — pointing fingers towards Congress leaders in a fiery manner, he told them that they were spoiling themselves by aligning with the Rashtriya Janata Dal. Nitish Kumar’s anger can now be deduced from his body language itself. This is the change of character taking place with time and age.
The author is former speaker of the Bihar legislative assembly. Views are personal.
Edited by Neera Majumdar.