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Nitish Kumar: Bihar’s ‘Mr Clean’ who humbled Narendra Modi

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Patna: He studied to be an engineer but ended up embracing politics. And in a state where many politicians are detested, Nitish Kumar – who took oath on Friday as Bihar’s chief minister – is widely recognized as a rare icon of simplicity and honesty.

Even critics of Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal-United (JD-U) grudgingly admire his many traits that enabled him to make up with his friend-turned-foe-turned-ally Lalu Prasad and deliver a huge blow to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his BJP in one of the most bitterly fought assembly elections.

Born in 1951 at Bakhtiyarpur in Patna district to an Ayurvedic physician and Congress leader, Nitish Kumar plunged into politics in the early 1970s at a time when Bihar was in ferment.

The numerous street protests in which he took part slowly turned the ‘Munna’ (child) — as he was known in the family — to a leader, getting elected to the Bihar assembly for the first time in 1985.

He became president of the Yuva Lok Dal in 1987 and secretary general of the then undivided Janata Dal two years later.

He entered the Lok Sabha in 1989 and went on to win five parliamentary elections from Bihar as his popularity soared. But as he grew and grew in stature, he kept his family away from politics.

A minister of state in the V.P. Singh government, he became railway minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government but resigned when a train disaster claimed the lives of about 250 commuters.

He returned to the cabinet as the minister for surface transport and agriculture.

Even as his former friend Lalu Prasad – a successful politician in his own right – earned notoriety for his brash conduct and corruption, Nitish Kumar came to be recognized for his moderate approach to everything.

He is a teetotaller who detests tobacco. Over time, he became an advocate of equitable development and good governance, which Bihar seemed to lack.

Nitish Kumar became the chief minister of Bihar for the first time in 2000, but his government was short lived. He had to resign within a week as he failed to prove his majority in the assembly.

By then, Nitish Kumar had come out of Lalu Prasad’s shadow and charted his own course.

In 2005, he teamed up with the BJP — a party he had opposed for years — to take power in the state again and end the 15 long years of reign by Lalu Prasad. He led the coalition to victory again in 2010.

The rise of Narendra Modi in the BJP, however, upset Nitish Kumar, who walked out of the 17-year-long alliance.

After the BJP led by an aggressive Modi swept the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Nitish Kumar made way for colleague Jitan Ram Manjhi, only to reclaim the post.

The JD-U stalwart is credited with re-laying roads that had virtually ceased to exist, building over 12,000 bridges and 66,000 roads, completing long-delayed infrastructure projects, appointing more than three lakh school teachers and ensuring that doctors attended health centres.

He also cracked down on criminals with strong links to politics. Speedy trials were ordered against 85,000 criminals, many of them politicians. All this was a veritable revolution in Bihar.

When the assembly elections were called this year, it became another prestige battle between Modi and Nitish Kumar. This time, having made up with Lalu Prasad, he humbled the prime minister in an election result which most pundits said would have national repercussions.

That much was evident when top leaders of non-BJP parties made it a point to attend his swearing-in on Tuesday.

His aides say Nitish Kumar is a firm believer in hard work and has a vision. In the decade he governed Bihar, the state made news for economic development. The law and order situation pointedly improved.

“It was the technocrat in him that reflected in his bid to develop Bihar. Nitish Kumar became a ‘vikas purush (man of development). Even his critics agree,” JD-U state president Vashisht Narain Singh, who has known Nitish Kumar since the 1990s, told IANS.

(Imran Khan, IANS)

 

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India Begins Its Election Season With Five States

The BJP has sent top leaders to campaign in Chhattisgarh.

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India began on Monday the first of five state elections to be held in coming weeks, important tests for Prime Minister Narendra Modi as he plots a course that he hopes will ensure him victory in a general election due by May.

Voters in the central state of Chhattisgarh went to the polls on Monday to elect representatives for 18 of the state assembly’s 90 seats in a staggered poll complicated by logistical problems and left-wing guerrillas.

The state of about 26 million people has been ruled by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) since 2003, and he will be hoping to hold on to power.

India, elections
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“Some unholy people have handed guns to children who should have pens in their hands,” Modi told a rally in the state on Friday, referring to the rag-tag guerrillas battling government forces from forest hideouts. “They’ve finished the lives of our tribal children.”

Hundreds of election workers had to be flown in to remote polling stations by helicopter because of the danger posed by the rebels.

Modi called for voters to back his BJP and its vision of “development for all.”

The final phase of voting in Chhattisgarh, which is known for its coal, iron ore and bauxite reserves, will be on Nov. 20.

India,India, elections
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The BJP was the preference of about 43 percent of voters in Chhattisgarh, 7 percentage points ahead of the main opposition Congress party, according to a survey released last week by the Lokniti-Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.

Modi’s other big tests will be in the neighboring central state of Madhya Pradesh, where the BJP is slightly ahead of Congress, according to polls, and in the northwestern state of Rajasthan, where Congress is expected to emerge victorious.

A good performance by the BJP in the elections would help it deflect growing criticism over unemployment and a crisis in the countryside over falling farm prices and wages.

India, elections
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Elections will also be held for assemblies in Telangana in the south and Mizoram in the northeast.

The BJP has sent top leaders to campaign in Chhattisgarh, including Yogi Adityanath, a firebrand Hindu priest and the BJP chief minister in Uttar Pradesh state.

Also Read: PM Narendra Modi Announces Easier Access to Credit

Adityanath has been appealing to the BJP’s Hindu-nationalist base and on Sunday accused the opposition of blocking construction of a temple for Hindu god Ram on a disputed site in Uttar Pradesh.

The destruction of a mosque on the site by a Hindu mob in 1992 sparked deadly riots across the country. (VOA)