Nitish Kumar, set to be Chief Minister of Bihar for the seventh time but with a greatly diminished status in the ruling alliance after finishing at number 3, rejected the “arrogant” label in an interaction with the media after the state election results.
He also denied that his months of silence during the coronavirus lockdown contributed to public disenchantment against him and his Janata Dal United (JDU).
“Please, don’t call me arrogant,” Nitish Kumar said, hands folded, responding to the familiar charge on Thursday.
NDTV had asked him: “Your biggest strength was communication, you stopped communicating. People say you are a victim of your arrogance. Do you accept you became arrogant? What explains your silence throughout the coronavirus crisis? You didn’t address a single press conference.”
In the election that ended on Tuesday, the Nitish Kumar-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) won a majority in the 243-member assembly, but powered by the BJP’s 74 seats. The Chief Minister’s JDU saw its tally drop to 43 from 71 in the previous election, leaving it.
The opposition Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) emerged as the single-largest party, which spurred its leader Tejashwi Yadav to challenge Nitish Kumar yesterday to “listen to his conscience and step down”.
Nitish Kumar betrayed hesitation when, asked about being Chief Minister, he said: “The NDA will decide”. This, despite the BJP’s repeated assurances that regardless of the JDU’s poor show, he will be Chief Minister. The BJP, say sources, does not want to be seen to snub an ally as it preps for elections in Bengal and Tamil Nadu.
Even Nitish Kumar had confronted displays of public anger during his campaign and had even faced an onion attack at a rally.
Asked about his lockdown silence, when his government was criticized over its handling of the migrants crisis, Nitish Kumar said: “How can you not know what efforts we made since the lockdown started? We have done so much work in Bihar. If someone is spreading falsehoods, what can we do?”
He also defended the patchy execution of his liquor ban, pointing out that there would always be “10 per cent people” who violated rules. “So many nations try to tackle crime but it is never at zero level. See how much we were able to control crime in Bihar,” said Mr Kumar.
“We are open to suggestions. We conveyed every step that we took during the corona crisis. But some people keep criticising us. If that gave people the wrong idea then how can we stop it?”