Patna: It’s not often that Opposition parties demand “nyay”, or justice, for a minister. But the Bihar assembly witnessed just that as the Opposition rallied behind a state minister and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLA, and raised the slogan, “Mantri ko nyay do”.
On Thursday, Bihar’s Labour Resources Minister Jibesh Kumar Mishra walked into the assembly and alleged that he had been insulted by police personnel managing vehicular movement inside the assembly premises. Mishra claimed he was made to wait for the city officials to pass through before he was let in.
“My car was stopped by the police inside the assembly campus from proceeding to the portico. I thought that it was the CM who was coming to the assembly. But I was informed that the cars of Patna DM and SP were to pass. The Chair (Speaker) has to decide if the minister is more important or the DM and SP,” Mishra said.
An agitated Mishra sought the suspension of Patna District Magistrate Chandrashekhar Singh and Senior Superintendent of Police Upendra Sharma.
His statement created upheaval as the entire opposition came in support of his demand. Even the Speaker conceded that it was a serious matter. The government unsuccessfully tried to tackle the situation.
“Since the matter relates to an issue which has happened inside the assembly we are ready to follow any direction the Speaker gives us,” Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and JD(U) leader Shrawan Kumar said in response.
However, this failed to pacify the Opposition leaders, who raised the slogan, “Mantri ko nyay do, naukarshahi ki sarkar nahi chalegi (Give Justice to the minister, a government of bureaucrats isn’t acceptable)”.
Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist) MLA Mehmood Alam criticised the Nitish Kumar government for its untamed bureaucracy.
“Earlier this year, MLAs were beaten up. Perhaps it is time for ministers to be beaten up,” Alam said, referring to the March incident when some Opposition MLAs were dragged and manhandled by police personnel amid protests over the passage of a legislation.
On Thursday, Bihar Speaker Vijay Kumar Sinha was forced to adjourn the House for 10 meetings, including with Director General of Police S.K. Singhal and Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Chaitanya Prasad. They were asked to submit a report on why the minister’s car was stopped and what is the protocol.
The issue was finally resolved late Thursday when the SSP and DM met Mishra at his residence and apologised. “I forgive them,” the minister told the assembly Friday, closing the matter but making it clear to the Nitish Kumar government that BJP ministers can’t be taken for granted.
Tussle over high-handed conduct
The latest battle inside the assembly isn’t an isolated one. The Nitish Kumar government and its bureaucracy is constantly being accused of high-handed conduct from several quarters.
On Wednesday, BJP MLA Nitish Mishra said in the assembly that MLAs were not being informed about the rural roads that were being approved or built or inaugurated. He accused the rural development department officials of arrogance.
However, CM Nitish Kumar claimed that he had directed officials to apprise MLAs about the progress of the work. “You were minister for eight years. Don’t you know how the department worked in your days,” he responded in the assembly.
“The CM is not speaking the truth. Nowhere are MLAs informed about rural roads,” former rural development minister and RJD MLA Awadh Bihari Choudhary told ThePrint.
Earlier this week, another BJP MLA, Sanjay Sarogi, took a jab at JD(U) minister Jayant Raj for failing to suspend an engineer posted in Darbhanga, from whose house Rs 65 lakh was recovered in cash by vigilance officers three months ago.
“What are your officials doing? They have not even served a show cause to the engineer,” Sarogi said in the assembly, leaving the JD(U) leaders embarrassed. Much to the discomfort of JD(U), the Speaker announced the formation of a House committee to probe the matter.
Anger in BJP MLAs
According to sources, BJP MLAs are angry at being ignored by officials and even insulted by CM Nitish Kumar. Several of them aired their resentment at a meeting of party MLAs Monday.
BJP MLA Nikki Hembram declared that the CM had insulted her when she called for Mahua trade by tribals to be legalised. She also criticised the state BJP leadership for failing to protect their dignity.
Mines minister Janak Ram alleged that the officials do not listen to him.
State BJP president Sanjay Jaiswal, who Thursday reacted to the Mishra episode, said that some officials were behaving as if they were part of a monarchy. He assured the BJP MLAs that he will apprise the central leadership of their grievances.
Ever since Nitish Kumar came to power in 2005, the influence of legislators on bureaucracy has been minimised. He stopped the practice of giving legislators Rs 3 crore every year for local development and also reduced their role in recommending projects. Legislators also don’t have any say in the appointment of police or civil officers in their area.
However, in the 2020 assembly polls, Nitish’s party was reduced to 43 MLAs against BJP’s 74.
“Nitish Kumar is behaving as if it is 2010 where he was the senior partner. He should realise that it is 2021 and he is the junior partner,” said a BJP MLA who didn’t wish to be named.