(This story was first published on November 9, a day after the Grand Alliance registered a massive victory in the Bihar assembly elections.)
He won’t hurry, not even on the day his alliance has pulled off a magnificent victory. When Nitish Kumar did show up for the media in Patna on Sunday, knowing that alliance partner Lalu Prasad had already hogged the limelight throughout the day, his face betrayed no excitement. It was only when the media requested a photo-op that he got up. The first smile came when he hugged Lalu.
Nitish is all about understatement—never flamboyant, never opinionated. “It’s just not in his nature,” his close aide Chanchal Kumar said once. He never speaks without thinking, and does not add to what he does not know.
He listened as the mercurial Narendra Modi, the pushy Amit Shah and other effervescent Bollywood figures scooted in to rail about him and scoot. The 64-year-old engineer let Lalu Prasad defend him with raw wit and repartee, while diligently strengthening his own credentials as the man who would be chief minister.
He listened in to the silent majority in the countryside and in his carefully measured counters to Modi, he would ‘hit’ back, but always tempered and within himself.
Cool workaholic Nitish Kumar is the son of an Ayurvedic physician, and has had his hand firmly on Bihar’s pulse. His roadmap for the Bihar campaign would be ready before anybody else’s, and it was.
Yet, Kumar is known to be a man of strong likes and dislikes. His present partner in power, Lalu Prasad, once described him as having ‘aant mein daant’ (teeth in his belly). Nitish is unlikely to forget. The association with Lalu was his weak chink, but Nitish had his answer ready: Lalu had been with the BJP too, and in any case he is a socialist.
A teetotaler who loves masala dosas, Nitish has even won grudging praise from BJP leader Sushil Modi, who acknowledges him as a visionary who changed Bihar. Sushil Modi is but one example; even Nitish’s most strident critics sometimes say good things about him.
Kumar may be in for a test sooner than he thinks, with Lalu looming large over the winning alliance. Yet, as his one-time closest aide Shivanand Tiwary has said: “He is made of steel. He will have his own template of governance, on which he cannot compromise.”
Persuasive, sometimes adamant, Nitish is not a man to have as an enemy. Yet, the man is a tactician who like a chess wizard senses every move of his opponent. And Prime Minister Modi and BJP president Amit Shah have just learnt that.