Having steered Bihar on the path of development for a decade now, Nitish Kumar has his task cut out as he begins his third innings as Chief Minister of the backward state while leading a coalition of his JD(U), Lalu Prasad’s RJD and Congress.
The 64-year-old leader, who resigned as Chief Minister on May 17 last year after JD(U) was almost wiped out in the Lok Sabha polls by Narendra Modi-led BJP, turned the tables with the masterstroke of aligning with Lalu Prasad and the Grand Alliance led by him won a thumping majority of 178 seats in a 243-member House in the Assembly elections.
While there was much speculation before the Assembly elections on whether the alliance will actually materialise, now the task before Kumar will be to carry forwards his agenda for governance along with the dominant parter RJD.
Lalu Prasad had declared before the polls that Nitish Kumar will be the Chief Ministerial candidate for the alliance but there is already talk in political corridors that RJD could ask for Deputy CM’s post.
RJD is the biggest partner in the grand secular alliance with 80 out of the cumulative 178 seats. JD(U) has 71 MLAs and Congress 27.
Lalu and Nitish, friend-turned-foe in state politics, sank their differences to revive an alliance that began over 40 years ago with a students’ agitation which soon turned into a pan-India movement led by veteran socialist leader Jayaprakash Narayan.
Though Lalu got lucky in his very first outing in the electoral arena, winning Lok Sabha poll in 1977, it took Kumar, an Electrical Engineer from NIT Patna, then known as Bihar College of Engineering, eight more years to get elected to the state assembly for the first time in 1985, after having lost twice.
Though as different as chalk and cheese, Kumar backed Lalu in bagging the chair of the Leader of Opposition in the assembly in 1989 and again when he challenged Ram Sundar Das and Raghunath Jha, nominees of Prime Minister V P Singh and Chandra Shekhar respectively, for the chief minister’s post after Janata Dal came to power in Bihar in 1990.
Kumar, who won the 1989 Lok Sabha polls from Barh, shifted his focus to Delhi, getting elected to LS in 1991, 1996, 1998 and 1999. He became Minister of State for Agriculture in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government and then briefly the Railway Minister in 1999. He resigned after the train tragedy at Gaisal in West Bengal in 1999 in which nearly 300 people were killed.
Suave and articulate, Kumar again became Railway Minister in 2001 and continued till 2004 during which period he was credited with introducing several reforms in the public sector behemoth like internet ticket booking and Tatkal system of instant booking.
The Godhra train burning incident in February 2002, which provided the spark that soon consumed Gujarat in communal flames, occurred during his tenure at Rail Bhavan.