Books

The man who transformed Bihar

There are several hitches in writing the biography of a contemporary political leader. The fundamental question is at what stage of the leader's career should a biography be written. Given the fact that election results, invariably, determine the fate of political leaders in the country, biographies, at times, may even become irrelevant.

But, there are no such problems for Arun Sinha who has authored the book, “Nitish Kumar and the Rise of Bihar.” Nitish Kumar has been in public life for nearly 40 years and his political fortunes are witnessing a northward movement. In the 2010 Assembly election, he led the JD (U)-BJP coalition to a spectacular victory.

Nitish Kumar, who has been Chief Minister for over six years and is serving his second term, enjoys a positive image — an effective administrator, making sincere efforts to put back his State on the development track. There are no major political controversies concerning him. His track record as Chief Minister has so far been free of scandals.

The author introduces himself at the outset as a college-time friend of Nitish Kumar. This might prompt one to assume he would not be critical of his friend. But, it is not so. Sinha, a senior journalist, does not employ harsh language but he writes of the shortcomings of Nitish Kumar as a political leader. To illustrate a point, the JD (U) leader, known for personal integrity, allowed persons with criminal antecedents to contest in the 2010 elections on his party ticket. Needless to say, most of them won. The author points out that it was the popular support for Nitish that ensured their victory.

Political life

Sinha has lucidly presented different aspects of Nitish Kumar's political life — the circumstances under which he entered politics; deep involvement of his father, Ramlakhan Singh, in the Congress; relationship with Jayaprakash Narayan; ties with Karpoor Thakur and his role in the success of Lalu Prasad's political career.

Some details about the personal life of Nitish Kumar — the temporary separation with his mother in his formative years and the untimely demise of his wife Manju Kumari, who did not join her Chief Minister-husband Nitish Kumar but had planned to join him only after her retirement from government service as a school teacher — are certainly moving.

Also, the author has impartially dealt with changes that Bihar experienced on political, social and economic fronts in the wake of Independence.

Several social and political changes seen by Tamil Nadu as a sequel to the formation of Justice Party in 1916 facilitated the progress of Backward Classes in the State. The election of K. Kamaraj as Tamil Nadu Congress Committee president for the first time in 1940 was itself a reflection of the changing dynamics of caste politics.

Bihar had to wait almost for 30 years to undergo similar changes. Though the towering Socialist leader and political thinker, Ram Manohar Lohia, suddenly died in 1967, his political approach has become a permanent feature in Indian politics. His strategies of anti-Congressism, forming coalitions suitably and the promotion of Backward Classes in politics, over a period of time, gathered strength. Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar are not the direct disciples of Lohia. But, they have all reaped benefits of the political seeds sown by Lohia. All these have been captured by the author.

One can divide the book broadly into two parts — one concerning the political career of Nitish Kumar against the backdrop of socio-political changes in Bihar and the other, his performance as Chief Minister since November 2005. The first part is more interesting than the second part, which may not engage a cursory reader as it generally deals with projects and schemes of the Nitish government. But, those who want to know challenges being faced by the northern State should read it too. However, what is missing in this part of the book is that it does not talk at length of Nitish Kumar's political work and political problems and crises that he faced since 2005.

Quota politics

Some portions of the book are of interest to a wider audience. For example, “backward caste politics.” Karpoori Thakur, who was Chief Minister in two spells (December 1970 to June 1971 and June 1977 to April 1979), made a seminal contribution to the study of quota politics by introducing reservation policy in 1978 in which 26 per cent in government employment was set apart for Backward Classes. Thakur later modified it to include three per cent quota for “economically backward.”

What is less known is that Nitish Kumar had drawn up a scheme of his own even then. The purpose of the scheme was to see to it that upper castes were not left out of the quota system. According to it, the creamy layer among the backward classes should not be given reservation. The poor among upper castes should be covered under the quota scheme. The Nitish scheme did not receive popular support then. The book does not throw much light about the present position of Nitish Kumar on the subject of reforms in reservation.

Several questions remain unanswered in the book. That despite knowing everything about Lalu Prasad, what did compel Nitish Kumar to support him strongly till the early 1990s, has not been adequately explained. In fact, he was with Lalu, who took on Karpoori Thakur in the inner-party battle in 1987 even though Nitish Kumar had a perfect relationship with Thakur. Similarly, the reasons behind their separation in 1994 have not been vividly given. But, to be fair to Sinha, he has recorded all such events even though he has not dealt with them deeply.

There may be several weaknesses in Nitish Kumar. But, here is a political leader who has a steadfast faith in democracy. His frequent direct interactions with people including regular state-wide Yatras represent his democratic temper. Capturing this feature of Nitish Kumar's personality rather prominently, the book is a significant document to insightful knowledge about the leader, who is attempting to restore a state that touched the nadir on social and economic fronts not long ago.

NITISH KUMAR AND THE RISE OF BIHAR: Arun Sinha; Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11, Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi-110 017. Rs. 699.


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Printable version | Jun 19, 2021 7:39:58 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/the-man-who-transformed-bihar/article3013622.ece

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