Patna: Bihar Chief Minister and JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar is facing more opposition from ally BJP these days than he is from rival parties like the RJD. Nitish did not try to hide his fury last Monday when he learned that Renu Devi, one of his two BJP deputy CMs, had undermined his demand for special status for Bihar.
“Deputy CM ko kuch bhi pata nahin (she knows nothing),” Nitish said after his weekly Janata Darbar (people’s court). The next day, however, another BJP minister, Jivesh Kumar, told ThePrint on record that there was no need for special status.
The controversy started with a report last month by NITI Aayog, the central government’s public policy think-tank, that ranked Bihar as the poorest state in India. In response, the Nitish government wrote to the NITI Aayog pitching for special status for Bihar so that it could remedy its “backward” status on parameters like human development, per capita income, and ease of living. Deputy CM Renu Devi, however, said the demand for special status was “unnecessary” since the central government was already funneling more funds into Bihar than it would have if the state had special status.
While the BJP and JD(U) have been sparring on other matters too — including on parliamentary proceedings and a proposed ban on public namaaz — party spokespersons are trying to downplay differences. BJP spokesperson Prem Ranjan Patel told ThePrint that “hiccups happen in every alliance” while JD(U) MLC Neeraj Kumar said “these episodes will not affect the government”.
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The special status row
Nitish’s heated reaction to Renu Devi’s statement was captured by the government press, but later that evening, the CM spoke more circumspectly about the issue to journalists in a private gathering. Nitish said Bihar’s position as one of the most backward states in the NITI Aayog report gave credence to the demand for special status.
“In 2005 when I came to power, the average income of a person in Bihar was just Rs 7,000. Now it is above Rs 43,000, but still way behind the national average,” Nitish said remarked.
BJP leaders, however, are still not convinced. State labour minister Jivesh Mishra told ThePrint Tuesday that Bihar “does not meet the criteria” for special status. “We are doing well without it. The Centre has been pumping in more money,” Mishra said.
The issue of special status has been raised by Nitish Kumar off and on since 2009. When Nitish held rallies and petitioned the Manmohan Singh government about the matter, BJP leaders gave him verbal support, but are now openly rejecting his call for special status.
Political observers believe that the support came at a time when Nitish was the big brother of the alliance, but he is currently a “junior partner”, with 43 seats in the state assembly compared to the BJP’s 74.
Last week, BJP MLA Haribhushan Thakur demanded a ban on public namaaz, along the lines of the new rules in Haryana. He was backed by BJP minister Samrat Choudhary. “Religion is a personal issue. It should not be allowed to flow on the roads and public places,” Choudhary said to ThePrint.
JD(U) leaders have ruled out any such ban, but are smarting about the issue. “The fact remains that the BJP has raised the issue unconcerned about the impact it might have on us,” a JD(U) MLA said on the condition of anonymity.
Bihar Speaker Vijay Kumar Sinha, who belongs to the BJP, started a new convention in the recently concluded winter session: He had the MLAs sing the national anthem — a move that the JD(U) had not been told about. “It’s not unusual. This happens in Madhya Pradesh,” Sinha told ThePrint.
The Speaker broke another convention when he announced that a House committee would probe a public issue, a first during Nitish’s regime. On a question related to corruption by an engineer in the Rural Development Department — which is headed by a JD(U) minister— the Speaker announced the formation of a House committee to probe the matter. Making matters worse was that the Speaker appointed former minister Nitish Mishra — a known baiter of the CM and a BJP MLA — as the head of the panel.
Sparring in the Lok Sabha
The differences between the JD(U) and BJP surfaced in the Lok Sabha too this week. During question hour Tuesday, BJP MP Ram Kripal Yadav criticised the Bihar government for lagging behind in completing road projects under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY). Union Minister for Rural Development Giriraj Singh also quoted statistics to back Yadav’s claims.
Unsurprisingly, JD(U) leaders were left fuming. Lalan Singh, the JD(U)’s national president, reminded Giriraj that the NDA had a government in Bihar and the Centre, and that Giriraj also hails from Bihar. He accused Giriraj of failing to hold a meeting with state officials to remove the bottleneck. Giriraj retorted that he had held several rounds of meetings with both officials and politicians, and that Lalan was free to talk to him about the matter.
Last month, Nitish Kumar had raised a demand to dismiss controversial university vice-chancellors appointed by Bihar Governor Phagu Chauhan. The issue came to the forefront when a vigilance raid conducted in the office of the V-C of Magadh University revealed huge amounts of unaccounted cash.
Although Nitish met Chauhan on 24 November to discuss the dismissal of controversial V-Cs, the governor has not acted on the demand so far, leading to speculation that the Centre has not backed Nitish.
What’s causing the rift?
The Nitish Kumar-BJP alliance has seen fraught moments in the past, but the current scenario is unprecedented, with BJP leaders and even ministers publicly denouncing the policies of a government of which they are a part.
One reason for this, according to many political observers in the state, is that there are no longer seasoned BJP leaders like Sushil Kumar Modi and Nand Kishor Yadav to modulate the pronouncements of party members.
Secondly, Nitish Kumar’s own image in governance has taken a plunge and the BJP does not want to be seen as ‘too close’ to him. The NDA alliance barely managed to win in the 2020 assembly polls and the BJP is wondering whether Nitish might turn into baggage rather than an asset for them.
However, BJP spokesperson Prem Ranjan Patel reiterated that the recent tension is temporary. “The main thing is that both parties know that they are together for the benefit of Bihar,” he said.
JD(U) spokesperson Neeraj Kumar also denied that the rift was serious. “The alliance government functions on the basis of the seven resolves made by Nitish Kumar during polls. There is no difference there,” he said.
(Edited by Asavari Singh)
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