Nitish Kumar – a Look at the Journey of Bihar’s ‘Sushasan Babu’

Lalu Yadav’s arch-rival and five-time Bihar Chief Minister and a Union Minister: who is Nitish Kumar?

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(This article is being republished from The Quint’s archive on the occasion of Nitish Kumar being named as the Bihar chief minister for a fourth straight term.)

The Nitish Kumar-led National Democratic Party (NDA) has come back to power in the eastern state of Bihar after defeating the Mahagathbandhan by a thin margin, following an intensely fought battle.

Here's knowing the already five-time Bihar Chief Minister and Lalu Yadav's arch-rival who has played a pivotal role in the state’s politics.

As glorious as it may seem, the road to Nitish Kumar's political journey hasn't been easy.

Taking full control of a politically frayed Bihar in 2005, Kumar earned fame for his efforts to develop the state. However, the 'Sushasan Babu' has often been accused of changing allegiances as a survival technique.

So, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) supremo, Lalu Prasad Yadav nicknamed him 'Palturam', for some who keeps changing sides.

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

Back to Where It All Began...

Kumar was born in 1951. His father, Kaviraj Ram Lakhan Singh, was an ayurvedic practitioner. He studied electrical engineering at the Bihar College of Engineering, now NIT Patna.

From 1974 to 1977, as a student, Kumar was a part of the anti-emergency movement led by Jayaprakash Narayan. He had even served a jail term.

In 1985, he got elected to the Bihar Legislative Assembly as an independent candidate.

He went on to become the President of the Yuva Lok Dal in 1987, and by 1989, Nitish Kumar was the General Secretary of the Janata Dal in Bihar.


Nitish and Lalu: Friends Turned Foes

Once called Lalu Yadav's 'Chanakya', the two friends turned rivals after Nitish Kumar broke away from the Janata Dal in 1994, forming the Samata Party.

A few years later, he joined hands with the Bharatiya Janata Dal (BJP) and served as:

  • Minister of Surface Transport (1998-1999)
  • Minister of Agriculture (1999-2001)
  • Minister of Railways (1998-1999 and 2001-2004)

In 2000, Nitish Kumar served as the Bihar CM for just seven days, but he reclaimed the position in 2005 when Kumar led the NDA to victory, ending Lalu Prasad Yadav and Rabri Devi's 15-year rule.

The Tumultuous Years

In 2013, however, he split with the NDA over Narendra Modi's PM candidacy. He formed a 'Mahagathbandhan' with the RJD and the Congress and won the 2015 elections, but the alliance didn't last long.

The CM again made a U-turn and rejoined the NDA in 2017. The leader was heavily criticised for his shifting allegiance.

Lalu took a dig at him, saying, "Nitish Kumar had claimed that he would die but never join hands with the BJP. He wanted to make a Sangh-mukt bharat."

Cut to 2020

Kumar's previous term was tumultuous. His role as the Chief Minister has been heavily criticised:

  • Muzaffarpur shelter home
  • Liquor ban
  • Migrant crisis
  • Unemployment

In the 2020 Bihar Assembly elections, despite drawing heavy criticism, Nitish Kumar has managed to secure a win in the state.

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