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As Nitish stays absent, Speaker Sinha returns to Assembly & claims truce. But storm not over yet

Patch-up between CM Nitish Kumar and Speaker V.K. Sinha believed to have been brokered by central BJP leadership. The question of CM making an apology 'remains unresolved'.

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Patna: Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and assembly Speaker Vijay Kumar Sinha of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have apparently reconciled two days after they engaged in a bitter verbal standoff in the House over a weeks-old row, even though some tensions remain.

After skipping the assembly Tuesday, the Speaker entered the House Wednesday and provided an explanation. 

“I have seen aggressive Opposition members and ministers losing their temper. What happened in the House was unfortunate. I will not allow the legislature to be humiliated. But it is my duty to run the House for the sake of the people. The chief minister met me and said that it was not his intention to insult me,” Sinha said in the House.

The spat had its origins in a Saraswati Puja function held on 5 February in Munger district’s Lakhisarai — Sinha’s assembly constituency. A large crowd had gathered for the cultural programme, leading to the police arriving on the scene and arresting two alleged associates of Sinha for breaking Covid-19 protocols. Sinha first sought the release of the two men and then escalated the matter after local police refused to oblige.

On Monday, the CM castigated the Speaker for his “unconstitutional” conduct. Sinha, on his part, snapped back and told the CM to not “demoralise the chair”.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Vijay Kumar Choudhary said in the assembly that the government had taken cognisance of the Speaker’s complaint. However, despite his and the Speaker’s statement, the Opposition was in no mood to let the issue go.  

The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) stuck to its stand that CM Nitish would have to apologise in the House. As a result, the House had to be adjourned again Wednesday.

The CM skipped the House Wednesday for the second consecutive day, citing a trip to Nalanda district.

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How Kumar and Sinha resolved the issue — partially

According to sources in the BJP, the patch-up between CM Nitish Kumar and Speaker V.K. Sinha came after the central BJP leadership asked the two to meet. National BJP president J.P. Nadda had brokered the truce between the two, they said, adding that the meeting took place after 9 pm Tuesday.

The Speaker was reportedly assured that action would be taken against police officers, as sought by him. However, the question of the CM making an apology remained unresolved, the sources said.

The episode indicates that it is becoming increasingly difficult for the BJP and JD(U) to remain allies, especially after the 2020 assembly polls, when the BJP emerged as the senior partner.

The two parties have been allies since 1996, with brief separation, including from 2013 to 2017.

Of late, Bihar BJP leaders have openly questioned the governance of Nitish Kumar, and even his anti-liquor policy. The only thing believed to be keeping the two parties together is the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, which they intend to contest in an alliance.

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Drama in assembly

On Tuesday, a day after the verbal duel between Kumar and Sinha, both skipped the proceedings of the House.

While Kumar stayed away on the pretext of monitoring projects, Sinha sat in his chamber but didn’t go inside the House. Instead of allowing Deputy Speaker Maheshwar Hazari to chair the proceedings, Sinha authorised veteran BJP MLA Prem Kumar to run the House.

Ruckus prevailed in the House throughout the day as it could be run only about half an hour amid multiple adjournments. RJD MLAs sported black bands on their arms alleging that the CM had insulted the Speaker.

“The CM left behind all dignity by publicly rebuking the Speaker. We demand that Nitish Kumar tender an apology for his conduct,” said senior RJD MLA Lalit Yadav, even as the parliamentary affairs minister denied that Kumar had been disrespectful to Sinha.

BJP MLAs remained silent spectators for most of the time.

While proceedings in the House remained stormy, drama prevailed outside. A number of RJD MLAs met the Speaker in his chamber.

“This is not a BJP and JD(U) rift. We are not bothered about the fact. The chief minister has insulted the entire legislature and he must apologise inside the house,” senior RJD MLA Alok Mehta told ThePrint, denying that the RJD created a ruckus at the behest of the Speaker.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Vijay Kumar Choudhary was seen shuttling between his office and the CM’s office on the assembly premises as CMO officials informed him that Kumar was waiting for him. “It’s not a big issue. Things will be settled amicably,” Choudhary told ThePrint.

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BJP central leadership’s move

Deputy CM Tarkishore Prasad and BJP minister Mangal Pandey spent over one hour with the Speaker during the day.

“The matter should be solved by tomorrow (Wednesday),” Choudhary said. However, the leader didn’t comment on whether Sinha had the blessings of the central BJP leadership.

“I believe that Nitish Kumar has held talks with Amit Shah and J.P. Nadda. The central BJP leaders did say that Nitish’s outburst in the assembly was not in accordance with his stature,” said a senior BJP leader who didn’t wish to be quoted. “However, the central leadership has authorised Prasad and Mangal Pandey to defuse the situation. Till Tuesday evening, the two had failed to break the ice as the Speaker is reported to have asked for an apology from the Bihar CM.”

BJP MLAs are now openly criticising the CM for what they describe as his arrogance.

“When there is no respect for the Speaker one can imagine the plight of an ordinary MLA,” BJP MLA Haribhushan Thakur told ThePrint.

“This sort of arrogance of a chief minister inside the assembly has never been seen in the past. In the 1980s there was conflict between the late chief minister Bhagwat Jha Azad and the Speaker Shiv Chandra Jha. But it was never reflected inside the house,” said BJP MLA Arun Shankar Prasad.

BJP MLAs are also discussing the possibility of the issue’s impact on the NDA government.

“In the worst scenario, we sit on the opposite side of the House,” said a BJP MLA loudly after the House was adjourned.

But most BJP leaders don’t see the NDA government falling. “We have sent a message that we will not take anything lying down. But it is unlikely that the central BJP leadership would like to lose Nitish before the 2024 Lok Sabha polls,” a BJP leader said on condition of anonymity.

Referring to the tiff, a JD(U) minister had earlier told ThePrint that the “Speaker is trying to run a parallel administration”, adding that Nitish was justifiably angry that the Lakhisarai episode had been brought up in the House.

(Edited by Amit Upadhyaya)

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