| Nitish Kumar greets Rabri Devi on the opening day of the Assembly in Patna on Monday. Picture by Deepak Kumar
Patna, Nov. 28: Rabri Devi thought she had bowled a googly, but Nitish Kumar walloped it right back.
The former Bihar chief minister had tried to floor the man who toppled her. She told him he had chosen as his deputy someone from as far away as Rajasthan.
But pat came the reply. “Look,” Nitish said, turning to Sushil Kumar Modi, “she knows so much about you.” As Rabri Devi groped for words, Modi blushed.
The BJP veteran, a Marwari though a Patna boy for long, used to have a good rapport with Rabri Devi’s husband Lalu Prasad when the Rashtriya Janata Dal leader was president of the Patna University students’ union. Modi was its general secretary. Both, along with Nitish, are products of Jayaprakash Narayan’s movement of the mid-70s.
“The Assembly appears so lively after a long time. We were bored with the same people talking about the same things in the same manner for several years. I am glad that I will retire with very pleasant memories,” said a senior House marshal who did not want to be named.
The little joke apart, proceedings on the first day were confined to the new members taking oath, an exercise that will continue tomorrow. A new Speaker will be elected on Wednesday. With the chief minister announcing the name of Uday Narayan Chaudhary as the National Democratic Alliance’s nominee, the election will be just a formality.
Nitish’s arrival at the main entrance was greeted with loud cheers by NDA legislators. But everyone was more curious about the way Rabri Devi, now the leader of Opposition, would conduct herself.
The former chief minister arrived hardly two minutes before the session began. But there was no sloganeering for the dethroned leader.
“This is what democracy does to you,” said a senior Assembly staff who was watching the scene from the stairs along with dozens of his colleagues.
Rabri Devi was escorted by two of her party members, Shyam Rajak and Abdul Bari Siddiqui, both former ministers. She headed straight for the House.
Inside, the Opposition benches looked thinned out. In the 243-member House, the ruling alliance has an impressive 143 members.
Nitish did a semicircle round, greeting each member individually.
Rabri Devi looked grave and composed, if a little puzzled, all through, seated bang opposite to where she had sat for the past several years.