Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s recent visit to temples in Varanasi and also the river Ganga, where he offered prayers, has surprised his old friends from college and his colleagues in politics who have said that the JDU president is not very religious and wears only a pearl ring to “maintain his cool”.
While his ally Rashtriya Janata Dal president Lalu Prasad Yadav had visited all the shrines and temples when he was the Railway Minister, Nitish did not visit holy places across the country when he was a Union minister. Lalu had visited most of the religious places, from Mata Vaishno Devi to Guruvayur temple in Kerala and also the Kamakhya temple in Assam. He is also a frequent visitor to Baba Baidyanath temple in Jharkhand.
Nitish’s recent visit to temples has triggered speculation in political circles.
Last week, Nitish followed on the footsteps of Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he visited Dashashwamedh Ghat in Varanasi on Friday and said he was from the banks of the Ganga. Nitish even reminded people of the popular Chora Ganga Kinare wala song from Amitabh Bachchan starrer Don. Modi, on his part, had claimed after filing his nomination papers in Varanasi for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections that he had been called by “Mother Ganga” to the holy city.
Nitish, who is being projected as the PM candidate for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections by his supporters, said he was born on the banks of Ganga (Bakhtiarpur) in Patna and that his college (Bihar Engineering College) is also situated on the banks of the Ganga.
Nitish also allowed priests to apply paanch-angul (prints of five fingers) on his forehead and participated in a specially arranged Ganga aarti which lasted for 90 minutes. He himself performed the aarti along with his two trusted political colleagues, R.C.P. Singh, who is an MP, and Lallan Sharaff, an MLC. Later, he visited the adjoining Baba Vishwanath temple and offered prayers. Before winding up his Varanasi visit, Nitish went to the famous Sankat Mochan temple of Lord Hanuman where he offered prayers conducted by the octogenarian priest Vishambhar Nath Mishra. Here, too, he offered an aarti.
People who have known Nitish for a long time said the Bihar CM does not perform pujas regularly at his residence in the CM house and this task is entrusted to his elder brother Satish Prasad Singh and his family who stay with the CM. Satish had organised a nine-day Durga Saptsati paath during the Dussehra festival last year while his family members organised a Chhath festival where Nitish offered morning and evening oblations to the Sun God.
Nitish is not even a regular visitor to the famous Hanuman temple at Patna Junction which was visited by Lalu Prasad last week. After his visit, Lalu and his wife Rabri Devi organised a “Sundar Kand” recital by 11 priests at his 10, Circular Road residence the same day. His two minister sons were also present during the recital which continued till 2 am the next day. An astrologer close to Nitish said when he had taken over as CM in 2005, Nitish had allowed his bureaucrats to perform a special havan at his bungalow for the peace of a black cat who died in his premises. “Nitish does not believe in rituals. It is his supporters and his well-wishers who asked for the special puja in 2005,” the astrologer said. Nitish, however, never misses to visit his village on the death anniversaries of his parents and wife along with his only son.
However, while Nitish’s supporters are engaged in facilitating special pujas to make him the PM, the CM got a rude shock on Friday from a former Union minister and RJD vice-president Raghuvansh Prasad Singh who said that Nitish’s over-ambition was killing the unity among anti-BJP forces in the country. “He is concentrating on himself and his projection rather than allowing anti-BJP forces to unite. This will not succeed,” Singh said after Nitish returned from Varanasi.