The electoral triumph of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Uttar Pradesh, as expected, has altered the power equations in Bihar.
Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, who had in 2017 quit Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD)-led Grand Alliance (GA) at the hint of intervention in governance by the lead partner, is helplessly obliging the diktat of the BJP. The expulsion of Vikassheel Insaan Party (VIP) chief Mukesh Sahni from the cabinet and his party from the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) are some obvious manifestations of how Kumar has been losing his grip on the governance over to the mighty BJP.
Political observers believe that the change in Kumar’s attitude could be attributed to his plan for an honourable exit from active politics and also pave the way for the transfer of power—from the Janata Dal (United)-led regime to the BJP in the saddle.
“Some sort of rehabilitation for Kumar seems to have been worked out by the BJP at the Centre, otherwise change of the CM’s conduct was a distant reality,” remarked Prof Shankar Kumar of Patna Science College.
The JDU insiders have it that Kumar could be projected as the NDA’s nominee for the presidential elections, due in July this year. Or at least, he could be rehabilitated as the Vice President.
“He has firmly settled the leadership issue in his party to grow despite his direct involvement to nurture at the grassroots level. The party’s Member of Parliament (MP) from Munger Rajiv Ranjan alias Lalan Singh has been made its national president, while RCP Singh is the party’s face in the Narendra Modi government and Upendra Kushwaha is looking after as the parliamentary board chief,” said a senior JD(U) leader.
Senior Congress leader Kishore Kumar Jha said that the power tussle in the NDA was becoming more intense in Bihar with the BJP striving to assert its position every now and then.
“The first blow of gaining the share in power was manifested in Assembly Speaker Vijay Kumar Sinha’s insistence for transfer of a deputy superintendent of police (DSP) of Lakhisarai, much to the discomfiture of the CM, who holds the home portfolio. It was for the first time when the CM, unlike his usual conduct, began chastising the Speaker to mind his business. However, later bowing to the pressure from the BJP, the DSP had to be transferred,” added Jha.
The growing assertiveness of the Assembly Speaker and Chairman of the Legislative Council Awadhesh Narayan Singh—both are members of the BJP—to make bureaucrats more accountable to the house is also being viewed as another attempt from the saffron brigade to control power in Bihar. Kumar has been so particular to hold his sway over the governance that he always preferred posting his favourite bureaucrats as executive heads of the departments held by the allies. Some of his ministers had taken serious exception to the conduct of the bureaucrats in their departments and even threatened to quit.
“Now, senior bureaucrats of the departments, including those held by the JD(U) leaders, are being made accountable for the sorry state of affairs in governance and given tough deadlines by the heads of the state legislature to resolve the issue. Earlier, bureaucrats used to offer vague replies to the queries raised in the assembly or the council and kept lingering the issues by making it sure that no action would be taken against them,” said an RJD MLC.
Though the BJP has been aggressive against the JD(U)’s stand over the prohibition act, which made Bihar a dry state since 2016, the party is apparently waiting for relief from the Supreme Court, which is hearing the case.
“We have been asking for a review of the law, as it led to the jailing of lakhs of people and cause lives of hundreds due to the hooch tragedies happening with unfailing regularity,” said BJP spokesman Nikhil Anand.
Some BJP leaders, pleading for anonymity, said that it was nothing unusual. “BJP is the single largest party with 77 MLAs in its kitty against 45 of the JD(U) in the house of 243. We are bound by our words to accept Kumar as the leader of the government. But, we also expect that the BJP workers’ bid to serve the people shall not be sacrificed in the name of governance,” said a senior BJP leader.