Patna: Back in the saddle for the fourth time in the politically important state of Bihar, Nitish Kumar is known as Chanakya in state politics for his carefully crafted behind-the-scene moves and his emphasis on growth and development.
The soft-spoken senior JD(U) leader has his task cut out this time as the state is in election mode with polls just five months away.
With today's swearing in, 63-year-old Kumar is back in the Chief Minister's chair he had quit on May 17, 2014 over JD(U)'s debacle in the general election.
After stepping down, Kumar, despite resistance from JD(U) legislators against his resignation, had his way and handpicked Jitan Ram Manjhi to succeed him on May 20, 2014. But, within eight months of the decision Kumar was forced to change the plot in the wake of dissent against him by Manjhi along with a section of JD(U) ministers and legislators.
BJP used the dissension to the hilt and extended support to Manjhi. But, the floor test could not be taken as Manjhi tendered his resignation ahead of the vote on Friday last. With the swearing in, a major crisis for Kumar has ended but some big challenges lie ahead for the socialist leader.
Besides, repairing the “damage” done by Manjhi to “sushasan” (good governance) as Kumar said on Friday, the wily politician has to allay the fears of people that company of RJD leader Lalu Prasad, who has been convicted in a fodder scam case, does not mean return of “jungle raj” as alleged by rival BJP.
This would have serious repercussion for Kumar, as he has to lead his party JD(U) and allies RJD, Congress and CPI to Assembly election in the state before November 25 this year. During his earlier stint as chief minister, Kumar had initiated a series of reforms and stressed on increasing enrolment of students, building roads and bridges and improving healthcare facilities.
BJP, whose relations with Kumar turned bitter after he led his party to severe ties with it on June 16, 2013 following elevation of Narendra Modi, has already coined a slogan “jungle raj II” , warning people of “looming danger of Kumar joining hands with Lalu”.
Kumar has defended his decision to join hands with Lalu, saying the bigger challenge at present was to take on BJP.
Recently he used the title of a Bollywood film “Main Hoon Na” to instill confidence in people and give a guarantee that nothing bad would happen till he was around. The engineer-turned-politician's first tenure as Chief Minister was for just seven days from March 3 to March 10, 2000 when he had to quit in the absence of majority.
He returned to the CM's chair on November 24, 2005 as NDA leader. His third term started from November 26, 2010 when he led NDA to win a two-third majority with 206 seats in the 243-member Bihar Assembly.
After parting company with BJP, the magic figure of 117 eluded him which he cobbled up only with the help of Congress and CPI.
His support base increased after joining hands with RJD during by-election to two Rajya Sabha seats in middle of last year.
However, the drubbing JD(U) received in the 2014 Parliamentary poll forced him to resign on May 17, 2014.
Son of a freedom fighter and a small time Congressman Kaviraj Ramlakhan Singh, Kumar was born on March 1, 1951. Nicknamed “Munna”, Kumar got married to a school teacher Manju Sinha in 1973. She died after illness in 2007. He has a son named Nishant Kumar.
A degree holder in electrical engineering from Patna Engineering college, now an NIT, Kumar is a product of 1974 JP movement and has been an ardent follower of Rammanohar Lohia and Jayprakash Narayan.
For Kumar, success in politics came very late. He contested Assembly election for the first time from home turf Harnaut in Nalanda district on Janata Party ticket in 1977 but lost to Independent Arun Kumar Singh. He faced another drubbing at the hands of Arun Singh, an accused in the infamous Belchhi massacre case in which Dalits were killed, in Harnaut in 1980.
After two losses, luck smiled on him in 1985 when he won from Harnaut in 1985 as a Lok Dal candidate. Since then, there has been no looking back for him.
Close to Chaudhary Devi Lal, Kumar's inning in national politics started when he contested Lok Sabha election from Barh in 1989 and defeated veteran Congress leader Ram Lakhan Singh Yadav popularly called “Sher-e-Bihar.” Kumar became Minister of State for Agriculture under Devi Lal in V P Singh government.
In 1991, he was re-elected to Lok Sabha from Barh. He again won Parliamentary elections in 1998 and 1999 but lost in 2004.
He held the Railway, Agriculture and Surface Transport ministries in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government.
Known in political circle as “chotta bhai” (younger brother) of Lalu Prasad, Kumar played a prominent role in making “bade bhai” Chief Minister of Bihar in 1990. But, their relationship soured after 1994 when Kumar rebelled against his “dictatorial” attitude to walk out of the party.