At one election rally after another, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar very much sounds like the man he detests most — Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But Nitishji, as he is widely known, shows none of the aggression Modi is so famous for.
In contrast to the past when the Janata Dal-United (JD-U) leader was economical with words, Nitish Kumar is very expressive while addressing large election meetings.
Like his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) opponent, he now interacts with crowds but without losing his calmness. And the crowds love the new Nitish Kumar.
The chief minister starts his speech after waving and welcoming the locals in their own dialect. He never forgets to take the name of each and every leader on the stage: from his JD-U and allies RJD and Congress.
He tells the enthusiastic gathering what he has come for.
“I am here to mark my attendance, and I expect you have accepted it,” the veteran politician says. And for full emphasis, he asks of the crowd: “Kabul hai naa?” (Do you agree?)
Then he gives an account of what he has done in the 10 years he has been the chief minister. There is no boasting.
“I did whatever I could within my capacity. I tried my best to promote development with social justice. It means development for all irrespective of caste and creed. So that no community or region is left behind.”
Then he takes up his favourite themes: girls, youths, women, Dalits, Mahadalits and backwards.
“I started with school dress and then gave cycles to school going girls to empower them. Meanwhile, boys asked me, ‘Uncle, please do something for us too’.
“I decided to give them also cycles and announced student credit cards up to Rs.4 lakh,” he says.
“This is ‘parivartan’ (change). Earlier when girls rode cycles, people didn’t see it positively. We have changed this attitude.”
Surprisingly for a politician, Nitish Kumar gives due credit to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), his former ally until Modi took charge.
In Modi style, he says: “Bihar aage badh gaya hai. Aapke sahyog se aage badhe hain.” (Bihar has forged ahead. With your help it has forged ahead.)
His government, he proudly points out, has built 66,000 km of roads and lots of bridges and flyovers.
After that, he takes on Modi.
“Now what change do you want?” he asks, mocking Modi’s pledge to develop Bihar. “Will you snatch the cycles from the students? Will you now blow up these roads and bridges with dynamite?”
Nitish Kumar makes it a point to address the women in the audience.
“I have done a lot for you. Don’t go by what your husbands say. Vote as per your wish, and ask them to follow you.
“If they don’t, leave them without food. If they respect your wish, offer them the best of food.”
The women – mostly rural folk – smile. The men take it sportingly.
Nitish Kumar makes fun of Modi’s and BJP’s claims of doing a Gujarat in Bihar.
“There is a lot of money in Gujarat but malnutrition among women is very high. If this is development, then Bihar does not need such a development model. What is the use of such development?
“We will give 35 percent reservation to women in government jobs.”
And in Modi style, Nitish Kumar interacts with the crowds — and they respond happily.
Clearly with Modi in mind, he asks the tens of thousands at rallies: “You want an outsider or a Bihari?”
The crowd roars: “Bihari!”
He goes on: “I am tried tested. Then why not me? Say goodbye to them (BJP).” The crowd roars again.
“Can I leave now with hope?” he asks.
The crowd responds with full throated cries of “Yes, yes, yes!”
“Tho inko (candidate) mala pahna de (Let’s then garland him),” he says, looking at the nominee of his Grand Alliance. “Lijiye pahna diye mala. Ab inka khayal rakhiyega. (He has been garlanded. Now take care of him.)
Nitish Kumar rests on a chair. In no time, he is on his feet again. He again waves to the crowds and slowly hops into a helicopter to address yet another rally, at another place.