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The Brothers Bihari - book charts journeys of Nitish, Lalu

The Brothers Bihari - book charts journeys of Nitish, Lalu
Highlights

Few political allies are as unlike each other as RJD chief and former Bihar Chief Minister Lalu Prasad and JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar, who recently took oath for the fifth time as the state\'s chief minister.

Few political allies are as unlike each other as RJD chief and former Bihar Chief Minister Lalu Prasad and JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar, who recently took oath for the fifth time as the state's chief minister.


"The Brothers Bihari", a book written by seasoned political journalist Sankarshan Thakur and published by Harper Collins, cast light on the life journeys of the two most formidable Bihar leaders. They fell out at their first taste of power and remained implacable enemies for near two decades before their quest for political survival in the face of a rampaging Narendra Modi-led BJP onslaught forced them together.

Thakur charts the political journeys of the two leaders, looks at the state with his sympathetic but dispassionate eyes and his gaze at times is so discomforting that you are left a little frightened at the future that awaits the impoverished state as two men with almost nothing common in their templates for governance get to rule it together.

At a time when the two backward satraps have registered a famous victory over the BJP and energised the opposition ranks, the book should be a recommended read for anyone keen on not only knowing what makes these two contrasting figures tick but also understanding Bihar, a state of wants and deprivations but which has often given a new direction to the national polity. The tome is not really a fresh piece of work but brings together Thakur's, himself a Bihari, earlier works on the two leaders but vastly changed circumstances in the state heightens its significance.

The author also seeks to answer the most asked question for much of the Lok Sabha election campaign in 2014 as to what made Kumar break off his over 17 years ties with the saffron parivar and risk almost everything he earned in between.

BJP may have accused him of betrayal and that he was driven by some grand prime ministerial ambition but Thakur puts it down to his deep aversion to Modi, a man who, according to Kumar, creates fear in the mind of countrymen and with whom there can be no compromise.

Kumar, 64, emerges as a hero in the book, a politician wedded to certain principles and to whom power is not an end in itself but a means to governance. Somebody who may make certain compromises for a larger goal but will remain his own man.

He joined hands with the BJP in 1996 after his first two years of struggle against Lalu Prasad's misrule came to nought but ensured that the saffron party's Hindutva agenda never cast its shadow on their alliance in the state. That he never allowed Modi to campaign there as long as BJP was with him is a pointer to this. Thakur may not say so in as many words but leaves little doubt over who the villain is, if you will.

It is Prasad, 67, who came to power in 1990 with not a little help from the Janata Dal's inner party intrigue and machinations and went on to whip up such a fervour of hope and expectations that it appeared for a while that Bihar was his for keeps. Thakur gives vivid details of his 15 years rule, when crime and politics coalesced so seamlessly that it became difficult to distinguish between a criminal and a politician.

Crime had become the most prosperous industry in the state, he writes and quotes a police officer saying that most of the gangs answered to people sitting in ministerial bungalows. Some high profile cases were sorted out with the intervention of Prasad himself.

The Bihar Prasad got to rule was already in a bad shape and was worse for his presence at the helm. "He inherited a mess and contributed chaos to it, like a typhoon visiting the ravages of a quake and mangling the remains," Thakur writes. Prasad did spiritedly dismantle the feudal power structure in which upper castes called the shots and skimmed all the creams. But the replacement he offered was, many will argue, was worse than the disease.

Many Dalits for the first time learnt to read and write at the exhortations of the Yadav chieftain but realised that it made little difference to their lives. The book sketches in details how Kumar assiduously worked to undo Prasad's legacy and built his reputation on restoring law and order in the state. The book has many little nuggets that offer a snapshot of various aspects of their personalities. Like a protest march Prasad was leading in 1974 in Patna and how he fled the scene when he sensed that police would resort to stern measures.

Many students following him died in police firing and his colleagues, including Kumar, "concerned" about his fate found him cooking mutton at his brother's house. Prasad's impatience with the nitty-gritty of either ideology or governance is well-documented and so is Kumar's attention to them.
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