The Brothers Bihari book review: Friends or foes?

By: | Published: November 15, 2015 12:06 AM

With the Bihar mandate throwing Nitish and Lalu together, the wait is on to see what happens next. A book that gives an insight into the two men’s lives could be some guide

The Brothers Bihari
Sankarshan Thakur
HarperCollins
Pp 418
R550

WITH THE Bihar assembly election over, and the focus now squarely on the duo of Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad Yadav, the wait is on to see what happens next in the state. Will the two be able to work together amicably or will the egos of the two prove to be bigger than the mandate they have got?

With this mounting anticipation, Sankarshan Thakur’s The Brothers Bihari, a semi-biographical sketch of Nitish and Lalu Prasad’s lives and times, gives us an insight into the two men and how they are as different as chalk and cheese.
This is not a fresh piece of work, and Thakur has brought out this volume by revising and combining two separate books he wrote earlier on Lalu and Nitish’s Bihar. Nevertheless, the engaging prose makes it a relevant read, coming at a time when Bihar has gone through a tumultuous election, resulting in the reunion of estranged colleagues Lalu and Nitish.

Nitish is a believer in the end-justifies-the-means theory of politics and this comes out aptly in an anecdote recounted by Thakur during the former’s student days in Patna, when, at a coffee house, Nitish banged the table amidst some discussion and said, “Satta prapt karoonga, lekin satta leke achha kaam karoonga (I shall get power by hook or by crook, but once I have got power, I will do good work).” In hindsight, this statement by Nitish, made at a time when he wasn’t even sure he would be able to make it in politics, best describes his journey in life. He first attempted to capture power in the state in alliance with the CPI (ML), which was a disaster. The subsequent tie-up with the BJP lasted for 17 long years and saw him achieve his goal for two consecutive terms. The alliance broke up due to the rise of Narendra Modi, and Nitish once again tied up with Lalu, with whom he had parted ways in 1994 over differences on the way the state was then being run. Thakur has aptly brought out the fact that Nitish has never been able to become chief minister on his own, always needing an alliance partner.

But beyond Lalu’s and Nitish’s lives, the book is also the story of Bihar—its caste and wars, its villages, districts, towns and capital city Patna. Thakur knows Bihar like the back of his hand, as he hails from the place and continues to visit it regularly. For anybody not familiar with the state, this book is a must-read, capturing well the nuances of life there, particularly in rural areas.

The chapters on Lalu vividly bring out how he came to power on hopes of change, but squandered it all because he simply wanted power and had no interest in governance. The Lalu story brings out how he was never interested in ideology, but thrived because of his sense of timing and ability to attract attention. Thakur writes how Lalu once gave up politics in his youth to become a police constable, but returned to political activity because he failed a racing competition.

Nitish broke away from Lalu because of Lalu’s non-serious ways of running the state and helping only people of his caste (Yadavs) to grab the spoils of power, but Nitish, despite coming from a backward caste, Kurmi, never wanted to be known as a caste leader. After Bihar hit a bottomless pit during Lalu and his wife’s reign, Nitish brought life back to the state. His development model was very basic, but it did wonders for a state, where even basic amenities were seen as luxury.

This current reunion of the Bihari brothers is a perfect consequence of Nitish’s coffee house remark about acquiring power by hook or by crook. What remains to be seen is whether this time he would be able to use the power to carry on the good work, considering that Lalu would be snapping at his heels all the time. Brothers or bitter enemies—only time will tell.

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