Patna: Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar Monday demanded a probe into the Pegasus spyware scandal, signalling a strain between the Janata Dal (United) and the BJP barely nine months after they formed the government in the state.
On Sunday, Kumar had met Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) chief Om Prakash Chautala in Gurugram, triggering a lot of interest in political circles. Kumar, however, clarified that there was “no political agenda” behind his meeting with Chautala. This came on a day JD(U) leader Upendra Kushwaha said Kumar was “PM material.”
“The (Pegasus) issue should be probed. The matter has been coming up in Parliament and the media for such a long time. I don’t know anything about this matter. I am just aware of what the media reports are saying. But it is my personal view that appropriate measures should be taken to remove doubts,” Kumar told reporters after holding a Janata Darbar in Patna.
He refused to comment on the opposition’s demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee to probe the issue. “The Union government has made a statement, But I am not aware of what the issue is,” he added.
The CM’s statement comes at a time when the JD(U) and BJP have crossed swords on a number of issues, including Pegasus.
Not just Pegasus
The conflict between the two allies is not confined to just the Pegasus row.
On Saturday, the JD(U) had adopted a resolution backing a caste census in the country, which state BJP president Sanjay Jaiswal has opposed.
“It will cause social tension and conflict,” Jaiswal told ThePrint.
On Monday while speaking to reporters, Kumar countered Jaiswal. “There will be no social upheaval section of society. The caste census will help every section of the society,” the chief minister said. “The Union government did not publish the 2011 caste census saying it is flawed. They should get a fresh caste census in 2022.”
On the issue, Kumar is on the same page with Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Tejashwi Yadav. Both had held a meeting Friday, in which it was decided that the chief minister would write a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi demanding time to discuss the caste census issue.
On Monday when asked if he would follow the Karnataka model in conducting his own caste census as suggested by Tejashwi, Kumar replied, “I have kept my options open.”
A CM of compulsion
An angry Kumar Monday also took on BJP Minister Samrat Choudhary who had said he was chief minister only due to majboori (compulsion).
“If Samrat Choudhary has a problem, he can talk to his party leaders,” Kumar said.
Choudhary was addressing party workers in Hajipur when he had made his remarks. “It is difficult to work in an alliance government. The time has come for the BJP to have its own CM,” he had said.
This, however, isn’t the first run-in between the two. Choudhary, who heads the Panchayati Raj ministry, had hinted that he would ban those having more than two children from contesting panchayat polls. He had to drop it due to resistance from the CM’s office.
JD(U) sources told ThePrint that state BJP leaders are now making statements against Kumar at the behest of their central leadership.
“I do not see how this alliance can survive when leaders of both sides are issuing statements contradicting each other,” a JD(U) MLA, who did not want to be named, said.
The absence of Sushil Kumar Modi
The continuing war of words between JD(U) and BJP is being attributed to the absence of former deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi.
Modi, when he led the BJP in Bihar, would intervene and put a full stop to statements being issued by party leaders.
Three years ago, when the alliance was under stress due to a communal flare-up after Ram Navami, it was Modi who did the fire-fighting and even got the son of Union Minister Ashwani Choubey to surrender in a case related to a communal event in Bhagalpur.
But BJP leaders of today are guided by central party leaders. Kumar is also uncomfortable because as the junior partner, he has little control over BJP ministers.
With no Arun Jaitley or Sushil Modi, Kumar is treading on unfamiliar ground in the alliance.
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)