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New low for Bihar NDA — JD(U) ‘boycotts’ BJP-led vote on best MLA

CM Nitish Kumar had 'reservations' over proposed debate. With opposition also boycotting assembly over Agnipath and only BJP MLAs present, Speaker had to call off session Tuesday.

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Patna: The Bihar assembly was adjourned Monday after MLAs and ministers of the Janata Dal (United) skipped a post-lunch session in which the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — the JD(U)’s ally in the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) — had proposed to discuss who was the “best legislator”.

The opposition Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Congress, and the Left parties also boycotted the House proceedings after the first half as Speaker Vijay Kumar Sinha refused to allow a debate on the central government’s Agnipath scheme for armed forces recruitment, saying it did not come under the state’s purview.

The House wore a vacant look as just 35 BJP MLAs moved the motion, with the discussion initiated by party MLA Sanjay Saraogi.

“It’s unfortunate that the opposition and some others have opted not to participate in this discussion and give their views on the subject,” Speaker Sinha said as he was forced to adjourn the House proceedings for the day.

For the past two days, the opposition parties, including the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Congress, have been stalling the House’s proceedings over their demand that a resolution be passed demanding the withdrawal of the Agnipath scheme.

According to BJP sources, the JD(U) had sent out feelers to the Speaker to allow a discussion on the Agnipath scheme, but Sinha brushed aside the suggestion. Bihar has seen widespread protests over the scheme, under which 75 per cent of new recruits to the armed forces will discharged after four years of service.

On Monday, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had expressed reservations over holding the debate proposed by the BJP on the best legislator. According to close associates of the CM, Nitish had told them that if the Speaker wanted to reward legislators for their performance, he could do so by forming a House committee.

“This is the first time I have seen the entire ruling alliance partner boycotting the House,” remarked a senior BJP minister.

It’s the second time that apparent tensions between Sinha and Nitish have been in the public eye. In March, the two had a standoff inside the House over action against police officers who the Speaker said had insulted him in his home constituency, Lakhisarai.

Also Read: Coaching centres in UP, Bihar caught in the crosshairs in wake of Agnipath protests

The build-up

There were signs of tension Monday when the Speaker declared in the House that he had an important announcement to make. “In each district and block office, there will be a separate office for the local MLA,” he said, and got a motion in this regard passed by voice vote.

A senior JD(U) minister remarked, “The Speaker has encroached on the rights of the government. This was an administrative announcement. If any announcement was to be made, then it should have been from the treasury bench.”

Also on Monday, JD(U) ministers Vijay Kumar Choudhary and Shrawan Kumar made several rounds between the CM’s office and the Speaker’s office in the state legislative building in order to convince Sinha to drop the debate on the best legislator, sources said.

But the Speaker refused to comply, stressing that he was only doing what Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla had asked state legislatures to do in order to improve their performance.

Subsequently, the debate was put on the agenda for Tuesday, but the JD(U) legislators decided to skip the proceedings.

JD(U) ministers Sheela Mandal and Sunil Kumar, meanwhile, sat in the House as the discussion began, apparently unaware of their party’s decision. Mandal soon left the House in a hurry, and her bag was later handed to her as she had forgotten to take it.

When the debate was initiated in the House, all JD(U) legislators present on the premises sat in the office of minister Shrawan Kumar. They refused to acknowledge that the JD(U) was boycotting the House proceedings. “I am here because I was called for a meeting,” JD(U) MLA Shalini Mishra told ThePrint.

“It can be a coincidence,” quipped JD(U) MLA Gopal Mandal.

Also Read: Nitish keeps Union minister RCP Singh on tenterhooks for RS term amid straining ties with BJP

Pradhan meets CM

The standoff between the JD(U) and the BJP in Bihar has coincided with Union minister Dharmandra Pradhan meeting Nitish to canvas support for the NDA’s presidential candidate, Droupadi Murmu. The JD(U) announced its support for Murmu last week.

Coming out of his meeting wth Nitish Tuesday, Pradhan told the press that everything was fine between the two ruling allies, and that the CM would complete his current term.

According to JD(U) sources, Nitish expressed strong reservations to Pradhan over the role of BJP state president Sanjay Jaiswal in frequent attacks on his government. He also spoke out against the Speaker.

“But it is hard to predict the BJP-JD(U) alliance. They’re at loggerheads against each other and then suddenly patch up,” the RJD’s chief whip in the assembly, Lalit Yadav, told ThePrint.

The RJD has announced that it would boycott the remaining part of the monsoon session, which ends on 30 June. Leader of the Opposition Tejashwi Yadav has criticised the Speaker for not allowing his party’s request for a discussion on the Agnipath scheme.

(Edited by Tony Rai)

Also Read: Nitish attends RJD Iftaar party, shows he’s ‘not out of options’, as BJP downplays significance


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