Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar on Thursday stunned his audience on the last day of electioneering with his remark that the assembly elections under way in the state were his last.
The NDA's chief ministerial candidate was addressing a rally at Dhamdaha in Purnea district. Campaigning for the last of the three-phase election ended on Thursday.
"Today is the last day of campaign. Polling will take place day after tomorrow. This is my last election (ye mera antim chunav hai). All is well that ends well (ant bhala to sab bhala)," said Kumar, his outstretched arms betraying the emotions he concealed behind his smiling face.
The crowds were stunned into silence for a few seconds, after which they erupted in applause for the 69-year-old leader who has ruled the state for nearly 15 years.
This is for the first time that the socialist warhorse, who has ruled the state for close to a decade and half, barring a few months when he made Jitan Ram Manjhi the chief minister to keep the seat warm for him, has apparently talked about quitting electoral politics.
His dectrators reacted with unbridled glee.
"Nitish Kumar has realised that he has become tired...that he cannot handle Bihar. Today, he has understood the ground reality and decided to quit," Rashtriya Janata Dal leader and the chief ministerial candidate of the opposition Grand Alliance Tejashwi Yadav told reporters.
Chirag Paswan, the Lok Janshakti Party chief, who led his party out of the NDA in Bihar just before the election, contended Kumar's comments at his rally on the last day of canvassing would have demoralised Janata Dal-United candidates even further.
"I don't know who advised him to make this statement at his last rally. When the leader runs away from the battleground, the contestants will definitely be demoralised," Paswan said.
Some in the JD-U said what Kumar meant was that it was his last public meeting of the election and not the last election of his political career.
They, however, chose to be anonymous.
Premchandra Mishra, a Congress MLC and party spokesperson, said Kumar's announcement was an acceptance of "impending defeat".
"Nitish Kumar is tired and retired. A wave of change sweeeps Bihar," said Randeep Surjewala, while reacting to the development.
A fourth term victory in the polls will enable Kumar to surpass the record of Bihar's first chief minister Shrikrishna Singh, who was at the helm for little under 15 years.
Kumar has been the chief minister since November, 2005, barring the nine months when his confidant Jitan Ram Manjhi had occupied the office as a stop gap arrangement after he stepped down in May, 2014, owning moral responsibility for the JD-U's drubbing in the Lok Sabha polls.
On the other hand, a defeat for him holds out the spectre of political oblivion since the JD-U, unlike the BJP and the RJD, does not have a formidable organisational machinery or loyal caste support base.