Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, like his predecessor and foe-turned-friend Lalu Prasad Yadav, has an earthy sense of humor. In a recent jibe at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Nitish Kumar said, `ek pehle prime minister the jo bolte hi nahin the aur ek ab hain jo sunte hi nahin hote” (There was a prime minister who never spoke and now you have a prime minister who does not listen)’.
While Nitish Kumar hit the nail, what he failed to say that Modi has been having only a one-way dialogue since he assumed power, just as he was doing before that. All his thoughts and words have been one-sided – Mann ki Baat – including. He has never addressed the media or took questions from it, never participated in an argumentative debate in Parliament and has only been heard making speeches. As has been well said by Partap Bhanu Gupta, President of the Centre for Policy Research, Delhi, all indications are that “India will be fated to deal with another missing PM who may be loud, but is still missing”.
The point that he is loud and unsparing was evident during the run up to the Lok Sabha elections but there seems to be no lull even after he helped BJP record a massive victory. In fact he continues to remain in election mode. After suffering a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Aam Aadmi party (AAP) in the Delhi elections, he now faces an acid test in Bihar and he continues at his acerbic best.
Thus at an election rally last week in Bihar, he referred to the allegedly “flawed” DNA of Nitish Kumar and cast aspersions on him as a Bihari. This provided a good handle to Nitish Kumar to launch a counter-attack. He organized thousands of Biharis to send their samples to the prime minister’s house to hammer home the point that there was nothing wrong with the DNA of Biharis.
During one his speeches he also called Bihar as one of the BIMARU states. The abbreviation stands for a group of states which at one time were considered laggard states who were dragging down the country’s economy. However, this abbreviation was coined over two decades ago and, in the meantime, Bihar has emerged as one of the fastest growing states even beating Punjab on certain developmental indexes. Nitish pointed this out in one of his speeches and the PM’s reference has not gone down well with the Biharis.
During his election campaign in Delhi he had described residents from the north east India in Delhi as `immigrants” sparking off a strong criticism for his comments. He had of course later clarified the issue and expressed regrets.
He had also been making rather derogatory references for Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi while keeping hitting out at all the opposition parties. His jibes at Robert Vadra, husband of Priyanka Gandhi, are well known. His earlier references to `Mian’ Musharraf and calling a former Chief Election Commissioner Lyngdoh deliberately as James Michael Lyngdoh to stress his religion, are too fresh to have been forgotten.
Modi had come under severe criticism even during his tours abroad where he spoke not as the prime minister of the country but as a political leader hitting out at the Congress and other opposition parties. His reference that earlier the Indians abroad were not taking pride in being Indians (and how it is changed now) also did not go well with NRIs as well as with the audience back home.
His conduct in the recently washed out monsoon session of Parliament has also come under much criticism. He remained an absentee PM from Parliament for most of the session even as the 40-strong Congress stalled the functioning of the two Houses of Parliament. There was absolutely no effort from his side to placate the opposition or any intervention or initiative to see that the Parliament starts functioning. He was not only absent from the all party meeting convened by the Speaker of Lok Sabha but remained conspicuously absent even when he could have intervened as leader of the House. He took no steps to see that some way could be found to the issues raised by the Congress even though some of the major demands of the Congress were impractical and ill-advised.
He made no attempt whatsoever to clarify his stand on the issues of Lalit Modi or the Vyapam scandal till almost the very end of the session. He maintained a studied silence in Parliament and even n his favorite “mann ki baat” although his party’s stand was made clear in Parliament that there was no question of asking for resignations of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje and Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan.
Opposition was quick to point that that the suspension of 25 Congress MPs from Lok Sabha was an extension of Modi’s strategy in Gujarat when he was the chief minister. Such suspensions were the order of the day and Modi preferred to distance himself from the demands raised by the opposition. However, his performance as the prime minister and attributes as a leader would be coming under closer scrutiny at the centre. He will have to modify his strategy in case he hopes to take the country and its people along. One would wish Modi grew from a politician in to a statesman.