A battle-worn political veteran, Nitish Kumar has often spoken of the decades he has spent in the rough and tumble of politics to shut down his opponents and paint them as inexperienced compared to him.
The latest to face this line of attack from the Bihar chief minister is Union Home Minister Amit Shah who, on October 11, took a dig at Nitish and said that those who claim to be the followers of socialist icon Jayaprakash Narayan, popularly called JP, were now with the Congress in their “lust for power” and had strayed “from the path shown by him”. Shah made the comment at JP’s paternal village Sitab Diara. Nitish hit back the following day, saying that he attached no importance to barbs hurled by those whose political career began “just 20 years ago”.
But this has not gone down well with the BJP, which has accused the Nitish of obfuscation, while even current ally Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) said the CM should speak about his government’s achievements rather than resorting to his political seniority to shut down opponents.
Shah is not the first politician Nitish has tried to put down on account of their perceived lack of experience compared to him. From Leader of Opposition in the Legislative Council Samrat Choudhary to his current ally and Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav, the CM has had a go at many leaders in this manner.
Last week, Nitish called 53-year-old Choudhary “ladka (boy)” in response to some of the BJP leader’s criticisms. The Janata Dal (United) leader reminded Choudhary about 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 content with us and not try to take advantage because of his years.”
During the last Assembly session, former state road construction minister and four-time BJP MLA Nitin Nabin had a similar experience when the CM asked him to “sit down” after he interrupted his speech. “You are just a child. Your father (Nabin Kishore Sinha) used to be my compatriot.” Nabin, who did not argue with the CM, later said: “The CM should remember that all legislators are equal in the Assembly. I can play his nephew outside the Assembly. He will get a befitting reply on his seniority someday.”
Tejashwi Yadav too had a bitter run-in 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. A livid Nitish said, “You do not know anything. I am keeping quiet, you are the son of a brother-like friend.” When Tejashwi tried to interrupt, the CM added, “Baua, baith jao (take your seat, boy).” The RJD leader obliged and backed down.
Election strategist Prashant Kishor, once a JD(U) leader, was also at the receiving end of Nitish’s criticism recently. When journalists asked the CM about Kishor targeting his governance record, Nitish said, “What does he know about the scale of work done during my tenure? He keeps speaking nonsense.” Kishor hit back, saying, “After God, only Nitish Kumar knows it all.”
Responding to Nitish’s jibe at Amit Shah, BJP spokesperson Santosh Pathak said, “In fact, age has been catching up with Nitish Kumar. How does Nitish talk about Mahatma Gandhi and his principles when he was born three years after Gandhi’s death? Should one be 100 years old to discuss Gandhi and 200 years old to discuss the heroes of the 1857 rebellion? Rather than trying to belittle our Home Minister over being CM’s political junior, Nitish Kumar should have answered if he had lived up to the ideals of JP.”
An RJD leader, requesting 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 have been also because the CM considered Singh to be too junior to engage in discussion to sort out differences between them. It, however, does not apply to Tejashwi Prasad Yadav to whom the CM attaches due importance.”
A senior JD(U) leader said on the condition of anonymity, “It is not fair to comment as there could be a context in which the CM spoke of his seniority and experience.”