Patna, Aug. 30: A day after his predecessor Nitish Kumar calling on Lalu Prasad, chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi today flew off to Mumbai to meet the ailing RJD chief who has been receiving steady stream of visitors, including senior RJD-JDU and Congress leaders besides their counterparts from the BJP, too.
The most distinguishable feature of the JDU-RJD-Congress’s alliance that put the BJP-led NDA on the mat at the just concluded by-elections has been the “restoration” of the personal bonhomie between the “bara bhai and chhota bhai” sobriquet used for Lalu and Nitish’s relationship ever since they began operating in tandem in the 1970s.
Even at the height of their political bitterness during Nitish’s liaison with the BJP, the two leaders managed to wall off their personal relationship despite their respective ranks and files, at times, breaking into slanderous remarks against the duo. There were occasions when the two showed up together particularly to address the state’s cause.
For instance, Lalu as a railway minister turned up at the chief minister’s secretariat, handing over a cheque worth Rs 40.60 crore to Nitish for the relief and rehabilitation of the people devastated by the unprecedented floods caused by the Kosi in 2008. “I am grateful that bara bhai Laluji has collected the money from the railway employees and the RJD workers to help me rescue the marooned people. Hum log saath saath hain, amne-samne nahin (we are together not staring at the faces of each other),” Nitish famously said when the Lalu-Nitish rivalry was at its crescendo ahead of the 2009 Lok Sabha polls.
Lalu, too, patting Nitish’s back, said: “The Bihar government is doing its work. We will together fight to mitigate the sufferings of the people in the Kosi region.”
Despite the provocation from the reporters gathered in curiosity to see how the two rivals behaved with each other, Lalu and Nitish then exchanged banters. “Aap longo ka daal yahan nahin gelega (Your tricks will not work),” Nitish told reporters, awaiting to catch moments of bitterness. But it did not come as long as they were together.
The two leaders belonging to the same ideological school have had a long-term family tie too. Lalu, while taking up the Patna-Bakhtiarpur-Barh stretch invariably dropped at Nitish’s home right on the stretch to meet his (Nitish’s) elder brother Satish Kumar, an ayurved practitioner, and asking for a pinch of “phankia” (ayurvedic concoction) to treat his aching stomach. Satish would happily oblige Lalu. Satish is also quoted as saying: “Lalu ne kabhi moonh nahin churaya. Bahot majakia admi hai (Lalu never turned his face on me. He has full of jokes to crack).”
Lalu kept on dropping at Nitish’s Bakhtiarpur home to meet Satish even in the middle of raging bitterness between Bara Bhai and Chhota Bhai.
On the other hand, Nitish attended almost all the personal and family functions at Lalu’s home. He attended Lalu’s daughter Misa Bharti’s wedding at 1 Aney Marg in 1999. The lavishness involved in the wedding drew caustic criticism from the BJP leaders then in alliance with the JDU. But Nitish maintained studied silence on the “lavish” wedding. “Our battle with Lalu is political, not personal. I am not here to comment on his offspring,” Nitish had curtly said.
While Lalu and Nitish are cementing their bonds, the BJP’s partners, Ram Vilas Paswan and Upendra Kushwaha, have turned relatively critical to the BJP. “The reason for the NDA’s defeat at the bypolls was the BJP’s late decision on its candidates,” Paswan said. Kushwaha added: “The BJP ignored the Koiri and Bhumihar castes in the bypolls.”