Patna: The son of Bihar Tourism Minister Narayan Prasad Sah was booked last Sunday for allegedly firing in the air to disperse villagers, including children, who were playing in an orchard owned by the family in West Champaran.
Sah and his son Neeraj Kumar alias Bablu refused any firing took place, and blamed the incident on an alleged encroachment bid.
However, this is only the latest in a series of incidents involving less-than-favourable headlines about ministers in Bihar’s Nitish Kumar government.
Last year, Bihar deputy CM and BJP leader Tarkishore Prasad was accused of giving lucrative government contracts to his relatives in Katihar district (he denied the allegations).
In November 2020, liquor bottles were allegedly found in a Hajipur school run by the family of BJP minister Ram Surat Rai (the latter has sought to distance himself from the case).
In June last year, Deputy CM and BJP member Renu Devi’s brother Ravi Kumar was involved in an alleged land-grabbing case in Bettiah (the minister claimed she had not been in contact with her brother for several years).
In 2020, Ashish Singh, the nephew of Food and Consumer Protection Minister and JD(U) leader Leshi Singh, was accused of murdering two political rivals in Purnea. It took local police more than two months to arrest the nephew.
As a politician, Nitish has built an image of an ethical leader who has little patience for the suspected wrongdoings of his colleagues. The series of controversies is a major challenge for the government, but JD(U) members insist the party has a “good track record” in this regard.
“Anant Kumar Singh (former close aide of Nitish) was arrested despite the fact that he was in JD(U) then. RJD MLA Raj Ballabh Yadav was arrested for rape despite the fact that RJD was then an ally, and action was taken against late RJD ex-MP Mohammad Shahabuddin,” said JD(U) MLC Neeraj Kumar.
“Even in the case of Sah’s son, an FIR was lodged by villagers on Monday night and a DSP-rank officer is investigating the case. Action will be taken after the investigation.”
As a politician, Nitish Kumar has carved an image of a leader with little patience for the suspected wrongdoings of his colleagues.
In 2018, Nitish demanded the resignation of JD(U) leader and social welfare minister Manju Verma when it came to light that her husband was a frequent visitor at the Muzaffarpur shelter home where minor girls were allegedly sexually exploited.
The same year, when Arjit Shaswat — the son of Union minister Ashwini Kumar Choubey — allegedly incited communal hatred in Bhagalpur, Nitish Kumar insisted that he should surrender.
In 2017, during the JD(U)’s brief alliance with the RJD and the Congress, Nitish publicly asked former deputy CM Tejashwi Yadav to explain the charges made against him by the CBI in the Railway Hotel transfer scam. The case ultimately led to the fall of the government.
Some people allege that Nitish’s reaction to such controversies has been relatively subdued of late, especially since the BJP emerged as the senior alliance partner in the wake of the 2020 assembly elections. Speaking to ThePrint, a JD(U) leader also questioned Nitish’s “silence” on recent criticism from the BJP.
“The fact that the JD(U) is a junior partner is now evident. BJP leaders are making statements against JD(U) publicly and the CM can do nothing about it,” said a senior JD(U) leader and MP.
N.K. Choudhary, former professor of Patna University, said the “CM’s silence indicates that his grip over governance has weakened and his political priority is to remain in power”.
“When ministers’ relatives do illegal activities and they go unpunished, good governance collapses. It used to be Nitish Kumar’s hallmark when he came to power in 2005,” he added. “It [the shift] is sad not only for Nitish Kumar but also for the state. Bihar is not alone where relatives of ministers are engaged in illegal activities.”
(Edited by Manoj Ramachandran)