|Nitish Kumar at the rally. Picture by Ashok Sinha
Rajgir, Oct. 29: Nitish Kumar mounted the extinguisher to Narendra Modi’s fire-breathing today and left him doused in a stunning counterblast whose central message was: this man does not deserve to become Prime Minister of India.
In an artfully constructed riposte to the BJP’s prime ministerial aspirant, Nitish landed punch for punch, paid back compliment for compliment, calling him a range of blunt names: liar, illiterate, divisive, fraudulent, fascist.
The Bihar chief minister was clearly smarting under Sunday’s gloves-off assault at Modi’s hands; he forsook his composure this afternoon and lavished unrestrained anger upon the man who became the cause for his rupture with the BJP.
In the process, Nitish may have injected in subdued JD(U) cadres, gathered in this hill resort for a convention, a necessary dose of energy to defend their besieged battlements.
“Modi was getting away with an unchallenged one-way campaign, Nitishji has now provided us the talking points to counter him with,” said party MLA Gyanendra Kumar. “The energy in the ranks has suddenly become palpable.”
Nitish began sombrely with an elaborate discourse on why he was fighting for special category status for Bihar and he intended to carry on his campaign.
But he probably knew all the time he was playing on the patience of party workers, slowly whetting their appetite for anti-Modi pyrotechnics. Once he turned to taking on the Hunkar Rally, his partymen began to chortle, applause began to ring.
“A man running for Prime Minister should be sober and patient,” Nitish said. “But he seems desperate and bitter. I know the people of Gujarat love their ice cream and their sweets, how is it he has such a bitter tongue? Why such desperation, why such haste?”
For the better part, Nitish used Modi’s own cannon as fodder to fuel his attack. He picked, for instance, on Modi’s “chun chun ke saaf kar do... clean them up one by one” exhort to the Gandhi Maidan gathering, and said: “This chun chun ke is the language of fascists, it is not a democratic tone, and the nation should take note. Look at his intolerance of Amartya Sen just because he praised Bihar and not Gujarat, his people just fell on a scholar like Sen. This is not even dictatorial behaviour, this is fascist, like Hitler.
“And like that other man in Hitler’s camp, (Joseph) Goebbels, Modi too believes in repeating lies a hundred times so it would begin to sound like the truth.”
Of Modi’s lies, Nitish claimed to have picked two from the Hunkar Rally. He had never been Modi’s guest in Gujarat, he said, he had gone to attend a wedding in the family of J.N. Bhatt, former chief justice of the Patna High Court.
He also had never had the opportunity to sit around the same table with Modi at a prime ministerial function. “Jhooth baat, all lies,” Nitish said. “But we are all familiar with kathavachaks (tale tellers) from Gujarat. One of them is currently in jail, and you know for what.” (A barely veiled reference and likening to taint-ridden preacher Asaram Bapu.)
There was more sarcasm Nitish had brought along to drip on the man who has challenged his fortress.
“Very educated man with a keen knowledge of history,” Nitish ventured, smacking his lips at what was to follow. “He thinks Alexander came to Bihar and was killed on the Ganges, he says Chandragupta Maurya was a Gupta dynasty king, he says Taxila is in Bihar, perhaps not knowing it is far away in the northwestern province of Pakistan. What is one to say of such a learned man?”
Modi’s interpretation of mythology, Nitish quarrelled with equally. “He has reduced our gods to caste leaders, Krishna to a Yadav hero, Ram to a Rajput protagonist. He says he is anti-caste politics and such is the caste politics he plays with gods. I want to inform him Ram and Krishna are not active members of any political party.”
Laughter rippled under the canopy where sat about five thousand party delegates.
“I know he is desperate to create a storm but it is a blower-generated storm, not a natural one, he wants to jump on the Delhi throne, I will say, ‘Have patience, gain the trust of billion-plus Indian people’. That will not come from desperation, that will not come from hunkar, whose very essence is arrogance and pomposity.”
If Modi was not averse to taking personal digs at Nitish last Sunday, the Bihar chief minister wasn’t shying off a close-to-the-skin joust either.
“I do not have the experience of being a tea boy,” he said, poking fun at Modi’s new positioning as an underdog. “But I come from a very humble and rural background and I have stayed close to the pain of the poor. I want to know what he has done for the poor. Only the rich are profiting in his state, the poor are suffering, but he never talks of the poor. JP, V.P. Singh, Charan Singh were not backward leaders but they understood their pain and did things for the poor, just being backward does not mean anything, it is what you do.”
Nitish travels to Delhi tomorrow to address a Left-sponsored event against communal forces, but he indicated he intends to keep his options on the future course open for the moment.
“I have not spoken to anyone yet,” he said, still teasing speculation over a tie-up with the Congress. “People are guessing, but we will take a decision at an appropriate time, whether we want to work with a front or something else.”
But the BJP option, he sounded firm, was closed. “I will reveal the story of how and why the break happened, but not today. For today, only a hint. Who took me to meet Gadkari and what assurance was I given? Where was that assurance given? It will become who backstabbed who and who is responsible for breaking the alliance. It is them, not us. Who is the opportunist? Them, not us.”
That’s not an argument that will stop ringing over Bihar anytime soon. Neither the direct spat between Nitish and Modi, which has only just begun.