Rereading the latest political biography of the Bihar chief minister in the middle of a contentious general election prompts some serious reflection on the nature of leadership. It is said that the one who leads the orchestra must turn his back to the crowd. But politics is unlike conducting an orchestra and a political leader, more often than not, swims with the tide. Nitish Kumar comes across as a leader who ignores the crowd, rising above it and often swimming against the tide. Does that make him a good or a bad leader, the reader is left wondering.
One of the last gentlemen in Indian politics, Nitish was seduced by Lohia’s socialism, got sucked into the JP agitation in the mid-seventies and gave up an engineering career. He refused to get married till the paltry dowry his father had accepted was returned. He lost the first two elections he contested because of his stubborn refusal to back people belonging to his own caste who were held guilty for a massacre. He neglected his wife for what he believed was a higher calling, public service. He stubbornly kept Narendra Modi away from his side all through his tenure as chief minister, at a time when nobody expected him to do so. And he felt his secular credentials required a parting of ways with the BJP when it became clear that Modi would be the party’s prime ministerial candidate.
Did Nitish oppose Modi because he saw himself as a potential or a better prime minister? Single Man does not throw much light on a troubled relationship beyond what is already in the public domain. The author does ask the question but the self-effacing Bihar CM brushes it off by saying that he has no ambition other than serving Bihar.
There are few Bihar observers who write as engagingly as Sankarshan Thakur. And he does not disappoint, delivering a racy, readable biography of a difficult, reticent subject. There are interesting vignettes about the Bihar CM’s visit to Pakistan and his insistence on visiting Jaulian in Taxila, where Chanakya is believed to have taught; his leaning towards Buddhism and his pronounced distaste for those seeking favour. Thakur, a self-confessed ‘Harry from Harrysburgh’ (Biharis migrating to Delhi from Patna), writes lovingly about the state and its chief minister, though a tad too charitably at times. But one can hardly blame him, for when he does manage to track down Nitish’s oldest childhood friend, all that Munnaji can recall of his days with the future chief minister is, “bahut maza kiye the (We had loads of fun)”.
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
Nitish Kumar ought to have waited to see how the dice would fall before making his big move.
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