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Nitish Kumar 'Flips' Again: Behind Eight-Time Bihar CM's 'Palturam' Moniker

Known for often switching sides, Nitish Kumar has abandoned BJP as his ally yet again. Here's a look at his journey.

Updated
Politics
5 min read

Video Producer: Shohini Bose

Video Editor: Pawan Kumar

Back in 2017, right after eight-time Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar abandoned the Mahagatbandhan (an alliance comprising the JDU, the RJD and the Congress) and returned to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) yet again, Rashtriya Janata Dal supremo Lalu Prasad Yadav had given him the moniker ‘palturam’ (turncoat).

"God knows how many times in the history of India, he has flipped. Call him (Nitish Kumar) 'palturam'. He is a 'palturam' of politics," Lalu Yadav had famously said.

Now, in 2022, history has repeated itself. Except this time, after his resignation as chief minister on 9 August, Nitish Kumar reunited with his purported nemesis, RJD, and took over the CM post for the eighth time on Wednesday, 10 August, leaving the BJP in the lurch.

As a 2015 reboot plays out in the state, here’s a deep dive into his ever-tumultuous political journey.

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Engineer-Turned-Politician

Born in 1951, the 71-year-old JD(U) chief studied electrical engineering at the Bihar College of Engineering (now NIT Patna). His father, Kaviraj Ram Lakhan Singh, was a Congress leader and an ayurvedic practitioner.

From 1974 to 1977, as a student, Kumar took part in the anti-Emergency movement led by Jayaprakash Narayan. He had even served a 19-month jail term then.

As Kumar, who belongs to Kurmi an OBC caste – finds himself ensnared in a political drama before his 2020 term could conclude, here’s a breakdown of his rise to power:

  • 1985: Elected to the Bihar Assembly as an independent candidate

  • 1987: Took over as president of the Yuva Lok Dal in 1987

  • 1987-1989: Became the general secretary of the Janata Dal in Bihar

  • 1996: Became part of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led alliance when his Samata Party joined NDA

  • 1998-2004: Worked in various capacities as the railways, transport and agriculture minister under the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA government

Nitish Kumar before presenting the Railway Budget.

(Photo Courtesy: Jansatta)

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But Why Did He Choose Politics?

His interest in politics dates back to his childhood days.

Sitaram, the Bihar chief minister's friend, once said in an interview that whenever their school friends quarrelled, Kumar would step in and bring matters to a close. He would gather all his friends, sit them down, and resolve the fight by pretending to be the 'sarpanch.'

His teachers, too, have confirmed that he had a keen interest in politics since his childhood. When he found out on the radio about then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri passing away, he went to inform his teacher at 3 am in the night.

‘Palturam, Dal Badlu’: A Look at His Constant ‘Flipping’

Kumar's strong political principles, however, have sometimes fallen short of the criticism he has received for shifting allegiances too often.

In March 2000, Nitish was sworn in as Bihar chief minister for the first time with the BJP as his ally in the NDA. However, unable to prove his numbers in the 324-member state Assembly, he resigned within seven days.

While RJD's Rabri Devi staked claim to the government until 2005, he later became the chief minister twice in 2005 and 2010 with the BJP on his side. In 2013, however, he cold-shouldered the saffron party as a sign of protest against Narendra Modi being named the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate.

Shortly after, he resigned in 2014 for the second time since 2000, before the conclusion of his five-year term. The reason? His party did terribly in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, winning just two seats. Jitan Ram Manjhi took over as the chief minister.

But before the 2015 Assembly elections, he returned as the chief minister of the state. He scampered to Lalu Prasad Yadav’s RJD and contested the state Assembly elections, forming the Mahagathbandhan with the Congress as another constituent.

However, in 2017, when corruption charges were levelled against the then deputy CM Tejashwi Yadav who refused to resign, Kumar stepped down, thus putting an end to the grand alliance himself. But, he came back to power within a few hours with the NDA as his team.

With his official term ending in 2020, he made a comeback as chief minister with the BJP until now in 2022, when he snapped ties with them for the second time in eight years.

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'Suhasan Babu' or Not?

Despite his tendency to flake out on partnerships, Nitish Kumar has also been called 'Suhasan Babu' (man of good governance) for his achievements across his tenures.

Providing enhanced power connectivity, ensuring 50 percent reservation for women and marginalised castes, cracking down on crime, and implementing a host of welfare schemes including the Jaankari, E-Shakti, and NREGs programmes, have all been touted as Kumar's laudable efforts to transform a state that has often been referred to as bimaru (ailing).

His desire to fight social evils extended to his personal life too. When he was married to Manju Kumari Sinha, his in-laws reportedly sent Rs 22,000 as dowry. When he found out, he returned it enraged and opted for a court marriage instead.

Nitish Kumar with his wife Manju.

(Photo Courtesy: Jansatta)

His rule has, however, also not come without criticism, ranging from the Muzaffarpur shelter home case and the liquor ban to the 2020 migrant crisis and unemployment situation.
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Nitish and Lalu: Friends-Turned-Foe Turn Friends Again?

Once known as Lalu Yadav's 'Chanakya,' Nitish Kumar broke away from the Janata Dal in 1994, forming the Samata Party.

Yadav and Kumar's relationship, which has survived multiple disagreements including the 2017 breakaway, showed signs of revival in May this year when Nitish walked the short distance to Tejashwi Yadav's home for an Iftaar party that he was hosting.

A return visit from Tejashwi Yadav to Kumar's party followed.

As the young leader left, the chief minister walked him back to his gate in full view of the media – a loaded gesture which did not escape anyone’s attention.

The walk, reports indicated, was done under the watchful eye of Lalu Yadav, Kumar's friend-turned-foe and back again.

Now, after patching up with the RJD for the second time, the looming question is – what comes next?

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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