The board abutting the concrete lane leading up to Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s ancestral home at Kalyan Bigaha village, in Nalanda district, gives a taste of the sense of pride among residents over the ‘local boy’. It reads: “Kalyan Bigaha ke laal, aapne kar diya kamaal! Aap hi vikas purush, aap hi Nitish Kumar (Oh, son of Kalyan Bigaha, you have pulled off a wonder! You are the development man, you are Nitish Kumar).”
The JD(U) leader’s frequent political flip-flops, however, seem to be beginning to make people here somewhat restless.
“We trust whatever Nitish-ji does. The same thing happened in Maharashtra, too. What’s wrong here?” said Suvender Singh, 60, a farmer from Kurmi community, which Nitish belongs to.
Brajesh Kumar, 50, another Kurmi farmer, however, was dismissive: “Nitish-ji has become a thali ka baigan (fickle-minded). It is increasingly becoming difficult to trust him. Aisa lagta hai baraati koi bhi ho, dulha ek hi rahega (it appears the groom will remain the same in every wedding). I don’t think this alliance will last long.”
Raja Malik, 27, who comes from Dom community, a SC sub-caste, pitched in: “Everyone in this village, and even in this region, supports Nitish Kumar. But in their heart, people feel he should not have broken the alliance with BJP.”
Almost everyone around him nodded in agreement.
Part of the discomfort with Nitish’s alliance with RJD stems from the fear that Yadavs, a dominant OBC caste, may begin to assert themselves more aggressively now.
“One of my Yadav friends, who has taken a car loan and is now being harassed by recovery agents, was yesterday beaming. He said if agents now approach him, he will run them over with his car. He may not do so, but he wouldn’t have felt this sense of impunity if RJD was not part of the (ruling) alliance,” said Dharmaveer Paswan, a motorbike mechanic at Harnaut bazaar, a few kilometers from Kalyan Bigaha.
Laddoo Singh of Kharuara village near Bakhtiyarpur also acknowledged the Yadav factor as a “challenge”. Singh, who belongs to Kurmi caste, said: “If a tree is laden with fruit, it must remain flexible. Otherwise it will snap at the first gust of wind. So the challenge will be to control the Yadavs. I was telling some Yadavs in our village to not start flying high, else this experiment will also fail.”
Reminded that the Grand Alliance governed for two years earlier, Paswan said, “Nitish-ji was an equal partner then. He is a junior (partner) now.”
Paswan’s neighbour Basant Prasad Yadav, who runs a sweet shop in Harnaut market, was more dismissive. He said, “Nitish Kumar is finished. From ‘Paltu Ram’ (turncoat), he has become ‘Bhatku Ram’ (aimless person). He should have become deputy CM and let Tejashwi Yadav be the CM. You should know your strengths and accordingly demand a post — he should have been deputy CM even in the last alliance (with BJP)…”
Amid speculation in some quarters that Nitish could be made the Opposition’s joint PM candidate, while there is excitement, few believe it will become a reality.
“Nitish may want to become PM, but he is not PM material. He will never become one,” said Ramsnehi Singh, 75, who claims to have seen Nitish Kumar grow up in Kalyan Bigaha. “Look at Narendra Modi — world leaders come to meet him, hold him in high regard. Does Nitish have that stature? If he was so popular, he would not need alliances.”
Laddoo Singh of Kharuara is excited about the Opposition gaining in strength but is not too sure of its prospects. “Everyone has personal ambitions. He has been CM for 15 years, now he wants try something bigger. That is good,” Singh said. “Whether he will win or not, we don’t know. But if he does not even put up a challenge, then obviously Modi will not be defeated.”