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A Quiet Antidote

A Quiet Antidote

Author: Prabhash Joshi, Senior Journalist
Publication: Tehelka
Date: May 16, 2009
URL: http://www.tehelka.com/story_main41.asp?filename=Op160509a_quiet.asp

Introduction: Nitish Kumar brings welcome sobriety and a focus on work to Bihari politics

Like Lalu Prasad Yadav, Nitish Kumar entered public life through the Jayaprakash Narayan(JP) movement of the seventies and the Mandal Commission. If Nitish appears more serious and hard working than Lalu, it is because Lalu made unabashed rusticity and political theatre two of the most potent symbols of Bihari politics. During the JP movement, Lalu and Nitish were stark opposites. In a quest for publicity, Lalu revelled in pomp and verbal fireworks, but Nitish strove to be a silent yet effective worker.

The charismatic Lalu became more and more famous and his larger-thanlife public persona grew to ridiculous levels. Nitish, on the other hand, is known as more of a worker than a political animal. From 1974 onwards, he has always been thought of as more reliable than Lalu.

Readers may ask, why is it not possible to describe Nitish Kumar without referring to Lalu Prasad Yadav? There is one main reason for this. Lalu entered Bihar and Mandal politics much before Nitish. The JP movement gave the middle castes a chance to express and assert themselves throughout northern India. The leaders of these castes wanted to appear different from the upper caste leaders of the country in every possible way. They wanted to appear more grounded, more desi and wanted to be seen doing politics for the poor and the downtrodden. In the Socialist movement, Ram Manohar Lohia made 'akkhadpan' (cussedness) the identity of desi politics because he wanted the English behaviour and suave manners of Nehru to look like hypocrisy. In the Socialist movement of the seventies, however, Jayaprakash Narayan promoted serenity, traditionalism and acceptability because of which his movement was firmly grounded in principles, ideology and revolutionary thoughtfulness. This brand of politics suited Nitish more than Lalu. However, post-Mandal politics gave greater scope to Lohiaite elements and Lalu became the mascot of this brand of politics. Again, when Lalu's trump cards started to look like jokers, it was the mild mannered and reticent Nitish who started to emerge as his polar opposite. Contrary to Lalu, Nitish Kumar's tendency has been to give due respect to his fellow politicians and to work harmoniously with them.

During Chandrashekhar's Janata Dal rule and during the implementation of the Mandal Commission report when VP Singh was in power, Lalu acted like an outright plunderer. But in both Janata and Mandal politics, Nitish won a reputation of being a dedicated worker, working away without any fanfare. In Delhi's political circles, Lalu created an illusion of a powerful force but Nitish was on a stronger wicket. Politicians remained in awe of Lalu, but hardly ever trusted him. Nitish, on the other hand, came to be known as the one who remained trustworthy, even in Delhi's political arena.

If Lalu's buffoonery had not prevailed in Bihar for 15 years before becoming so disreputable, Nitish's modest mien and attitude of steady hard work would never have attracted so much attention. If Nitish's mundane lifestyle and day-in and day-out focus on his job are the talk of Bihar, it is because Lalu spent all those years tickling people with calculated tomfoolery and mesmerising them with sleights of hand, all while serving his own interests. Nitish is trying to deliver, without showing off. His purposefulness and personal honesty are having their effect.

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