Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar: A tale of two friends

By Premkumar Mani,

Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar, the chief ministers of Gujarat and Bihar respectively, have, of late, been grabbing the headlines. Not only do their names begin with the same alphabet but they are also members of the same political alliance, NDA. But now, both are at loggerheads. At least it appears so.

Support TwoCircles

Very few people know that Nitish Kumar has had a sneaking admiration for Narendra Modi. In fact, I can detect a tinge of camaraderie in their present antagonism. Psychology says that love and hatred are the two sides of the same coin. Their friendship and enmity have got so intermingled that it is difficult to make out one from the other.

I remember an incident. It was the summer of 2004. Lok Sabha results were out and in Bihar, the UPA under the leadership of Lalu Prasad Yadav had got a decisive lead. The NDA, led by George-Nitish had been badly mauled. Nitish ji came to my place. He was free and so we talked for hours on everything under the sun. My contention was that the NDA had to bite the dust because of Narendra Modi. Nitish ji was not ready to concede my point. That I was opposed to Modi was quite palpable to him. In a somber and firm voice, Nitish ji said, “Narendra Modi is the new face of the BJP. He comes from a Most Backward Class. He is Ghanchi, a Ghanchi! It is a minority backward caste there. The BJP’s Brahmin lobby is out to defame him. Even Vajpayee has joined its ranks. Modi is a dynamic man. Meet him once and you will become his admirer. He comes from a very poor family. He is extremely simple and very diligent.” Nitish ji appeared to be in a state of trance. He was unstoppable. Then, fondly recalling an occasion when Modi played host to him, he concluded his monologue, “I have become his fan.”

I am surprised how this fan of Modi’s has turned his foe. Is this what is called politics? Is all this being done just to grab a share of the Muslim vote bank? Or, is there something more to it?

I cannot say what the truth is. At the personal level, I am not in touch with Nitish ji. And surmises are, after all, only surmises. Some say that Nitish Kumar is indirectly helping Narendra Modi by keeping the latter constantly in the news. Who would not like such a friend? Maybe there is some truth in this conjecture but, publicly, Nitish has turned their relations quite bitter. Probably, he is hoping for some big gain. But is that possible?

Narendra Modi is BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate. Nitish Kumar’s eyes are also set on the same position. This clash of interests has turned friends into foes. What else can be expected in such circumstances?

As far as I remember, in June 2010, just prior to the last Bihar Vidhan Sabha elections, Nitish Kumar had hosted a banquet at his official residence for the delegates of the BJP national executive meeting. However the banquet was cancelled at the last moment quoting an advertisement as an excuse. The said advertisement was inserted by a businessman in many newspapers. It included a photograph of Narendra Modi andNitish Kumar jointly campaigning for the 2009 Lok Sabha polls. The businessman wanted to welcome Modi to Bihar with this advertisement. However, Nitish Kumar went into such a tizzy that he even threw normal courtesies to the winds. The monetary aid extended by the Gujarat government for the flood victims of Bihar was also returned. Nitish did not want his close relations with Modi to be made public. The advertiser, probably, did not comprehend that some relations—especially those of love—are best kept private. Making them public is fraught with dangers. And that is what happened. The BJP leaders had to face humiliation. They bore it without demur. They are quite used to it. They had put up with the tantrums of Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh equally without complaint. These are the compulsions of alliance politics. The BJP doesn’t mind being humiliated by persons from whom it hopes to benefit. And in this instance, the BJP is dependent on Nitish and not the other way round.

In the Presidential elections of 2012, Nitish did not support the BJP’s candidate. He supported the Congress nominee Pranab Mukherjee and was once again patted on the back by the media for his “secularism”. The media did not care to enlighten us as to what secularism had to do with this. Was the BJP-backed Sangma communal? And if not, does the Congress have a monopoly over secularism? Judging from Nitish’s recent posturing, he seems to believe that he is the flag bearer-in-chief of secularism in the country and that the nation’s secular polity would collapse without him. No one even tried to bring the reality to the fore – the reality that Pranab Mukherjee was more a nominee of the Ambanis than of the Congress. An envoy of the Ambani family is an MP from Nitish’s party and he controls the entire party set-up. Those who are patting Nitish Kumar on the back should also remember that Bal Thakeray was also a member of the comity of leaders that supported Pranab Da.

I am not among those who have given a clean chit to Modi in the post-Godhra communal riots or have forgotten Advani’s role in the Babri demolition. The 2002 riots in Gujarat were horrible and as chief minister, it was Modi’s duty to stop the violence. I hold Modi guilty even today. But, was he alone guilty? At that time, Atal Behari Vaypayee’s government was ruling at the Centre. Why did it not dismiss the Gujarat government? After all, Vajpayee had the precedent of dismissal of a string of state governments after the demolition of the Babri masjid. Just before the riots, the Bihar government was dismissed for the ‘Senari massacre’. The Gujarat riots were much more serious and sinister than ‘Senari massacre’. When the Bihar government could be sacked for one single massacre why couldn’t the government of Gujarat be dismissed? Was Modi alone guilty of not following the ‘rajdharma’? What sort of ‘rajdharma’ was Vajpayee following?

And Nitish Kumar–who considers Vajpayee a messiah–which ‘rajdharma’ did he follow? It should not be forgotten that Nitish Kumar was the Railways minister when the Godhra train arson took place. Nitish Kumar, who had offered to resign after the Gaisal train mishap did not even care to visit the site of the Godhra tragedy. It is surprising that the same man is now sermonising to Modi and that too regarding riots.

The role of both Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar in the Godhra train tragedy is not above reproach. Both of them and subsequently their common political ideal, Atal Bihari Vajpayee,did not fulfill the ‘rajdharma’. Both are publicity-crazy and both are self-anointed ‘Vikash Purush’. As for their achievements, economic inequality had grown in both Bihar and Gujarat. In both the States, the rich have become more powerful while the poor have sunken deeper into misery.

But there are some crucial differences between Nitish Kumar and Narendra Modi. While Nitish Kumar comes from a kulak Kurmi family of Bihar, Narendra Modi hails from an extremely poor and most backward class Ghanchi family of Gujarat. Nitish’s father was an Ayervedic ‘Vaidyaraj’ and a Congress leader while Narendra’s father was a small-time tea vendor. Narendra Modi spent his childhood washing the used glasses at his father’s shop when Nitish was studying Engineering, Narendra was the domestic helper in a lawyer family’s home where his responsibilities included cleaning 9 rooms and preparing food for 15 members of the family. He somehow studied and acquired degrees by appearing in exams as private student. Whatever he learned, he learned in the school of hard knocks. He might be associated with rightist politics but his childhood was as full of struggle as that of the Russian writer Maxim Gorky. There is another crucial difference between Narendra and Nitish. Even as a chief minister, the former led a simple life. He maintained a safe distance from sycophants. He also avoided associating himself with tainted persons. All this is not true of Nitish Kumar. He once had a clean image but now he is embroiled in all sorts of controversies. His lifestyle has changed. According to information procured through RTI, he has spent crores of rupees from the state exchequer on his ancestral village and his official residence. He likes to be surrounded by sycophants, criminals and tainted persons. And he is just a bit behind Mayawati in erecting the statues of the members of his clan.

( Premkumar Mani is a leading Hindi writer,thinker and Political activist. Published in FORWARD Press, September,2012)