Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has a new fan. Pakistan’s former celebrity cricketer and politician Imran Khan openly expressed his admiration for Nitish in an television interview late last week in Islamabad. Imran praised the master of social re-engineering—whose formidable minorities base helped to place him in power in Patna—for the manner in which he shifted identity politics with new governance model.
A Pakistani parliamentary delegation visited Patna on August 25 and met Nitish at his official residence, 1 Anne Marg. The delegation not only praised him for transforming Bihar into an ideal society, and hailed the ongoing progress and development in the state. They also extended an invitation to Nitish to visit Pakistan, which he readily accepted. He may keep his word in November or December this year. Nitish is not a frequent flyer abroad unlike other CMs, having only visited Mauritius, China and Bhutan in last seven years.
Political analysts are of the view that Nitish is definitely planning to grow out of Bihar and market himself globally as a major contender for prime ministership. His bête noire, Narendra Modi, is already a global brand. Sources in Patna say that Nitish feels his visit to Pakistan will help cultivate his secular image further, which will keep intact his minority vote base in Bihar and other states. Though the JD(U) has announced plans to adopt the UP model and contest the Gujarat polls on its own —the BJP being its main antagonist while it’s a ruling partner in Bihar—Nitish’s Pakistan visit coinciding with the Gujarat Assembly polls would give him the way out of campaigning in the state.
Nitish is not the only state leader who has been wooed by the Pakistan establishment. In 2003, Lalu was the star of the visiting Indian parliamentary delegation to Pakistan. At many places he was mobbed on the street which led the then President Parvez Musharraf to mention in his speech how the Lalu phenomenon was sweeping Pakistan. Shatrughan Sinha, actor-turned-politician and BJP MP from Patna Sahib, is also very popular in Pakistan and counts former PM Nawaz Sharif and Parvez Musharraf among others as friends. Sinha is a frequent visitor next door, boasting a host of family friends, apart from innumerable fans.