A battle-worn political veteran, Nitish Kumar has often spoken of the decades he spent in rough-and-tumble politics silencing his opponents and portraying them as inexperienced compared to him.
The last one facing this line of attack of the prime minister of Bihar is the Union’s interior minister, Amit Shah, who made a dig at Nitish on Oct. 11 and said those who claim to be the followers of socialist icon Jayaprakash Narayan, popularly called JP were now at Congress in their “lust for power” and had strayed “from the path he had shown”. Shah made the comment to JP’s paternal village of Sitab Diara. Nitish hit back the next day, saying he gave no importance to barbs that were hurled by those whose political careers began “just 20 years ago.”
But this did not go down well with the BJP, which accused the Nitish of embezzlement, while even current ally Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) said the CM should speak about his government’s performance rather than resort to his political seniority to eliminate opponents.
Shah is not the first politician to have tried to take down Nitish because of their perceived lack of experience compared to him. From opposition leader in the Legislative Council Samrat Choudhary to his current ally and Deputy Prime Minister Tejashwi Yadav, the CM has tried many leaders in this way.
Last week, Nitish called 53-year-old Choudhary “ladka (boy)” in response to some criticism from the BJP leader. The leader of Janata Dal (United) reminded Choudhary of working with his father and former MLA Shakuni Choudhary. In response, Samrat Choudhary told The Indian Express: “Nitish Kumar seems to have lost his politics now. I am a five-time legislator. Just as Nitish Kumar is an MLC, I am also an MLC. He should discuss the content with us and not try to take advantage of his years.”
At the last meeting of the assembly, former Road Construction Minister and four-time BJP MLA Nitin Nabin had a similar experience when the CM asked him to “sit down” after interrupting his speech. “You are only a child. Your father (Nabin Kishore Sinha) was my compatriot.” Nabin, who did not argue with the CM, later said: “The CM must remember that all lawmakers are equal in the Assembly. I can play his cousin outside the Assembly. One day he will get an appropriate answer on his seniority.”
Tejashwi Yadav also had a bitter clash with Nitish last year. At the time, the RJD leader was the leader of the opposition in the Assembly and had taken on the CM. An enraged Nitish said, ‘You don’t know anything. I shut up, you are the son of a brother-like friend.” When Tejashwi tried to interrupt, the CM added, “Baua, baith jao (sit down, boy).” The RJD leader obeyed and withdrew.
Election strategist Prashant Kishor, once a JD(U) leader, has also recently been on the receiving end of Nitish’s criticisms. When journalists asked the CM if Kishor was targeting his board record, Nitish said, “What does he know about the magnitude of work done during my tenure? He keeps on talking rubbish.” Kishor hit back and said, “After God only Nitish Kumar knows it all.”
Commenting on Nitish’s jibe at Amit Shah, BJP spokesman Santosh Pathak said: “In fact, age has caught up with Nitish Kumar. How does Nitish talk about Mahatma Gandhi and his principles when he was born three years after Gandhi’s death? Does one have to be 100 years old to talk about Gandhi and 200 years old to talk about the heroes of the 1857 rebellion? Instead of trying to belittle our Home Secretary for being CM’s political junior, Nitish Kumar should have replied if he had lived up to JP’s ideals.”
An RJD leader, who asked for anonymity, said: “The CM should go back to speaking about his good works to respond to his political opponents. If Sudhakar Singh (former Agriculture Minister) had to resign, it could also be because the CM considered Singh too subordinate to enter into discussion to resolve differences between them. However, it does not apply to Tejashwi Prasad Yadav, to whom the CM attaches the necessary importance.”
A senior JD(U) leader said on condition of anonymity: “It’s not fair to comment as there could be a context where the CM talked about his seniority and experience.”