It’s Chhath! Nitish, Lalu take a break from politics

By Imran Khan, IANS
Thursday, November 11, 2010

PATNA - The Bihar polls are still on, but thanks to Chhath Puja, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and archrival Lalu Prasad are taking a break from campaigning and soaking in the festivities as their families invoke the sun god.

“Please, no politics, it is Chhath,” Lalu Prasad, chief of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), told IANS Thursday when asked how confident he was about ruling Bihar again.

It was no different for Nitish Kumar. An official close to him said he was taking rest Thursday after weeks of election meetings for the Oct 21-Nov 20 polls.

“It appears that Nitish Kumar is not in a mood to play politics for the next two days in view of Chhath,” the official said.

The four-day Chhath festival began Wednesday with millions of devotees offering early morning prayers at riverbanks across the state. Chhath, which is celebrated six days after Diwali, is dedicated to the sun god and is one of the most popular festivals of Bihar.

Married women and middle-aged men lead preparations and observe fasts. People will make an offering to the setting sun Friday and the rising sun Saturday to mark the end of Chhath.

Sure enough, Nitish Kumar’s official residence wore a festive look as his elder brother Satish Kumar’s wife and other close relatives performed Chhath. Nitish’s aged mother Parmeshwari Devi was also supervising the festival.

“Nitish Kumar’s presence is a big morale booster for family members who are happy that he ordered the necessary facilities for Chhath,” an official at the chief minister’s 1, Anne Marg residence said.

While his wife Manju Sinha died in 2007, his son Nishant was taking active part in the rituals. “Nitish Kumar may not be performing Chhath directly but he is keen to offer prayers to the sun god,” another official said.

Nitish Kumar, leader of the Janata Dal-United (JD-U), has time and again said he is neither a religious person nor an atheist but likes to help celebrate Chhath.

“He celebrated Diwali and Durga Puja with simplicity this year,” another member of the chief minister’s staff said.

A festive mood also prevailed in Rabri Devi and Lalu Prasad’s residence, a few metres away from the chief minister’s home. The couple, both former chief ministers, take part in Chhath Puja every year.

A special pond that was erected five years ago at their home to worship the sun god during Chhath was cleaned earlier this week.

“Rabri Devi has been performing the rituals at her residence instead of going to a river,” a staff member at her residence said. Her Chhath Puja celebrations have been gala affairs every year, attracting attention ever since she became chief minister in 1997.

Lalu Prasad was helping his wife.

“Chhath is not an easy festival, it is a difficult one as age-old traditions and rituals have to be followed. Lalu Prasad’s presence gives strength to Rabri Devi,” RJD leader Ram Kirpal Yadav said.

Dozens of ministers and many former central and state ministers and MPs were celebrating the festival in their homes.

Colourful idols of sun god riding his chariot with seven horses, a new attraction this year, were being sold on riverbanks. Areas along the bank had been cleaned up and decorated by devotees.

The administration along with voluntary groups worked round-the-clock to clean up neighbourhoods and roads leading up to the banks of rivers and waterbodies.

Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad are the two main contenders for the post of chief minister. The stakes are perhaps higher for Nitish Kumar, who is seeking the people’s mandate for another term.

While Nitish Kumar is expected to resume campaigning Saturday, Lalu will do so Sunday for 26 assembly seats that will go to polls in the final phase Nov 20.

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