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Karpoori Thakur: Jan Nayak who is revered across ideologies

Source: PTI   -  Edited By: Utkarsh Mishra
Last updated on: January 24, 2024 01:23 IST
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Chosen for the country's highest civilian award Bharat Ratna a day ahead of his birth anniversary, Karpoori Thakur has been the veritable 'Jan Nayak' or people's hero of politics in Bihar, whose legacy parties cutting across ideologies seek to claim.

IMAGE: Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar pays tribute to former State Chief Minister Jannayak Karpoori Thakur on his birth anniversary, in Patna on January 24, 2023. Photograph: ANI Photo

The announcement by the Centre has been greeted by a moving tribute from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and an expression of gratitude from Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar whose Janata Dal-United has planned a big rally to mark the birth anniversary on Wednesday.

Born in 1924 in a village in Samastipur district which has since been re-named after him, Thakur, who had two short-lived tenures as the chief minister, began his political activism as a young student during the Quit India which caused him to spend several months in jail.


"His term in power may not have lasted for long. But, in those days, the rise to the highest seat of power was no mean feat for a person coming from a poor family and the extremely backward and numerically small caste Nai (barber)," says veteran socialist leader and Rashtriya Janata Dal national vice-president Shivanand Tiwary, whose late father Ramanand Tiwary had been one of the comrades in arms of Thakur.

Although Thakur initially took up a teacher's job in a village school, he had always been interested in politics and showed promise when he emerged victorious in the first state assembly election held in 1952, from Tajpur constituency, as a candidate of the Socialist Party, in times characterized by hegemony of the Congress.

Tiwary said, "Karpoori Thakur had been close to Jayaprakash Narayan, though later he also grew close to Ram Manohar Lohia. His leadership qualities were such that despite being from a so-called lower caste, he was respected by those hailing from the upper castes."

The socialist leader rose to prominence in 1967, when the state saw its first non-Congress government headed by Mahamaya Prasad Sinha.

Thakur, who became the deputy chief minister, also held the education portfolio, and is often remembered for doing away with English as a compulsory subject in schools.

"It was a very bold step. In a state like Bihar, proficiency in English did not come easy for a majority of students, more so for those coming from underprivileged backgrounds. Thakur had the sagacity to recognise this and the guts to make a move, which others would emulate in different parts of the country," said Tiwary.

Thakur, whom incumbent Nitish Kumar and former chief minister Lalu Prasad call their mentor, had his own first brush with the highest seat of power in 1970, which lasted less than a year.

Five years later, he returned as the chief minister upon formation of a government by the Janata Party, a motley group of outfits opposed to the Congress, which also ousted the party from power at the Centre, riding the public anger against the Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi.

Tiwary said, "It is true that Thakur never enjoyed a full five-year term in power. The total duration of his two tenures as Chief Minister would come to less than three years. But his achievements have been far bigger than the statistical figure suggests."

It was during Thakur's reign that the Mungerilal Commission's recommendations were implemented, introducing quotas for backward classes. The Most Backward Classes, now popular in political lexicon as 'ati-pichhda', were recognised as a distinct category during his time, Tiwary pointed out.

The RJD leader, who has also been with Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal-United in the past, underscores that the ban on alcohol, which the current Chief Minister counts on as one of his major achievements 'was first experimented with in Bihar during Karpoori Thakur's rule'.

Unsurprisingly, therefore, a Bharat Ratna for Thakur has been a long-standing demand of Nitish Kumar and he expressed a sense of fulfilment in the statement he gave upon receiving the news.

Thakur breathed his last in 1988 and although his son Ram Nath Thakur is a Rajya Sabha MP from the JD-U headed by Kumar, the late leader is always remembered as someone untouched by the venality and nepotism many of his political disciples are accused of.

Kumar shares power with RJD president Lalu Prasad, who had succeeded Thakur as the Leader of the Opposition in the Bihar assembly upon his death, which paved the way for his own rise to the top.

Both parties hope to cash in on the recent hike in quotas for deprived castes that followed a comprehensive caste survey and parallel functions scheduled on Wednesday to mark Thakur's birth anniversary are expected to see posturing on these lines.

However, with the Centre agreeing to bestow the honour, the BJP, too is likely to aggressively pose as the real champion of the backward classes.

"It took Narendra Modi, a son of an ati-pichhda, to give Bharat Ratna to Karpoori Thakur. Nitish and Lalu, despite having enjoyed clout with many central governments of the past, could never make it possible," said senior BJP leader and former Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi.

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Source: PTI  -  Edited By: Utkarsh Mishra© Copyright 2024 PTI. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of PTI content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent.
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