After 18 years in politics, Singh’s political reflexes were appropriately acuminated for him to know it was not the time to sulk or carp. He said Kishor would strengthen the JD(U) and rebuffed the media’s question on whether he was downsized. “I am just a 5-foot-4-inch tall person. How much can you downsize me?” he replied.
A year later, his differences with Kishor were out into the open, be it on backing the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) or firming up a seat-sharing deal with the BJP in this year’s Bihar elections.
When Kishor dissented against the JD(U)’s support for the CAA in Parliament, Singh dismissed him as a “leader who was inducted on compassionate grounds” and suggested he was free to “choose his own path”. Kishor promptly met Nitish and claimed he was advised “not to pay attention to anybody uttering anything”.
Singh is not “anybody”, certainly not to Nitish. “Typical of Nitish, he doesn’t want to give an impression that Singh’s the only one who matters to him. He moves the pawns on the chessboard and keeps them slightly on edge,” a former associate said.
Singh, who has an MA in International Relations from Jawaharlal Nehru University (he hasn’t said a word on the campus assaults, though) and was an IAS officer from the Uttar Pradesh cadre, first became associated with Nitish when he was railway minister in 1998. “The fact that Nitish leveraged his influence to get Singh out of UP speaks volumes for their mutual trust quotient,” a JD(U) source said. As Nitish’s principal secretary, Singh handled the administrative work. “Nitish works through officialdom but he allowed Singh to handle the officers because he realised they could be tricky at times.”
There was a caste and regional link to the lasting association. Nitish and Singh are Kurmis from Nalanda district. “In an administrative system dominated by the upper castes, the backward castes and Dalits turn to political leaders of their castes for patronage and protection. Singh was not an exception,” said a former Bihar bureaucrat.
Singh followed Nitish from the railway to the agriculture ministry but reverted to UP as vice-chairman of the Noida Development Authority in 2004, after the NDA coalition lost the election. Eventually, when Nitish became chief minister, he effected a cadre transfer for Singh, who relocated to Patna as his principal secretary. In 2010, Singh quit the IAS and was nominated to the Rajya Sabha by Nitish.
Rajiv Ranjan (Lalan) Singh, Munger MP, was regarded as Nitish’s Man Friday at that point. “Once Singh came in, there was a demarcation of responsibilities. Singh handled government projects, transfers and postings, while Lalan was in charge of doing the bigger deals. They clashed once. Lalan left in pique after Nitish sided with Singh. Lalan returned after two years in the Congress but he doesnt’t enjoy the same status. It’s a troika that rules the JD(U), with Nitish as the head and Singh and Lalan as his arms, in that order,” a source said.
According to the source, the difference was while Lalan flaunted his connections with Bihar’s infamous “bahubalis”, Singh was fastidious about the company he kept.
To the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the JD(U)’s long-time ally, Singh was the bridge, the “setu”, who had a “good” equation with Modi and Home Minister and BJP President, Amit Shah.
If it came to Kishor and Singh, who would Nitish lean on? The answer was unambiguous. “Singh of course because he is a trouble-shooter par excellence,” a JD(U) source emphasised.