Nitish Kumar: The Minimalist Mantri


Nitish Kumar: The Minimalist Mantri

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar isn’t fazed by groups of women waiting to pile on to him with political queries. The occasion is a non-fussy lunch with him organized by the Indian Women’s Press Corps (IWPC) in one of the oldest bungalows of Lutyen’s Delhi, but the ladies prefer questions on Bihar instead of rajma-chawal. In the November 2010 Bihar elections which led to a landslide victory for Kumar, one of his largest vote banks was female. So he has seen it all at close quarters: female wrath and triumph, docility and daring, haplessness and helplessness too. Angry and angsty women, unrelenting, unforgiving, curious, serious, demanding a just present, insisting on a promising future and voting for him. Naturally then, he appears unperturbed by female city journalists.

He came to IWPC wearing a tried and tested smile. A day’s stubble, all salt no pepper, hair snipped to the closest crops of them all, a well- tailored cream-coloured kurta in silk wool, white pyjamas, beige socks and a black, half sleeve bandhgala jacket. Propah gentleman’s dressing for the rooted, good guy of Indian politics. But let’s go back to that smile for a moment. It stayed on his face distracting onlookers from the details—a pearl ring set in silver (astrological prescription?) on his right, little finger, a watch with a black strap and a beige and black dial (Titan we are told later), worn wristwards. That smile wasn’t fake; it wasn’t tiring him either. Nitish Kumar is a man of easy demeanour, no jittery, self-conscious movements, no patting of head or tapping of feet. His wore black leather moccasins with white saddle stitching, the brand unknown even to the closest aide.

Bihar! Bihar? Bihar?? asked the lady journalists. Bihar. Bihar, only Bihar, agreed Mr Bihar. He may want to edit his answers; they are long, and he gets carried away with them back to his home state. “The biggest change in

Bihar is that women now decide for themselves,” he says, “and if we had

to choose one symbol that reflects

this turnaround, it is girls on government-given bicycles riding to school,” he adds.

He serves this like a politically correct sound-bite, even a catchy headline, unsure perhaps whether the press conference slated immediately after at Delhi’s Press Club would digest this naari focussed speech at all.

The Bihar CM is a simple man but you do not need a stylist to tell you that. His rimless, photocromatic glasses with a navy blue metallic frame which have taken their own time to darken before the sun’s invasive glance are now shielding the CM’s mildly growing fatigue with political questions. He must have his lunch, reminds someone, perhaps for the twentieth time. The women relent, only to swarm all around him as he helps himself. Let him eat please, pleads an assistant. Nitish eats, a dieter’s quantity of rajma-chawal and gobhi aloo. He accepts half a spoonful of pickle, smiling a bit when asked about his favourite food. “I am a shakahaari, I eat everything, anything, simple, basic,” he says. Nutritionists would be happy, both with his choice and with his humble portions.

His glasses relent momentarily, allowing intrusion and you notice that he has had enough. Both of the women and of the food. “He is a very simple man,” says an escort. As if we don’t know. Shoes? Where does he buy his shoes? Who chooses his attire? “A few pairs are sent to him and from them, he chooses one,” comes the reply.

Nitish Kumar doesn’t want dessert. Electoral success is enough.