There is growing angst within the JD(U), which plans to revive its pitch for special status for Bihar. CM Nitish Kumar has also been heard speaking against Assam’s Citizenship Bill and Modi government’s demonetisation move.
New Delhi: In the last 15 days, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, who is believed to be unhappy with the BJP’s big brother attitude, has surprised his coalition partner on two separate occasions.
On 17 May, he met a delegation of the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) in Patna, which wanted the chief minister to oppose the citizenship bill that the Modi government intends to get passed in the Lok Sabha.
Nitish promised the AASU leaders that he would write to PM Modi and advise him against it. He also told the delegation that as India is a secular country, citizenship cannot be determined on the basis of religion.
On 26 May, while addressing a banking conference in Patna, the chief minister criticised demonetisation carried out by the Modi government in November 2016. It was for the first time that Nitish panned the move.
“I was a strong supporter of demonetisation. But how many people benefitted from it. Some powerful people shifted their cash from one place to another and the poor suffered,” he said.
The Bihar chief minister’s outbursts are not spur-of-the-moment comments; ThePrint has learnt that they are an expression of the growing angst within the JD(U) against the BJP.
JD(U) sources told ThePrint that the anger against the BJP has been brewing ever since the two parties formed the government in August last year. The primary reason appears to be the BJP’s assertiveness in the coalition. While the JD(U) has 71 seats in the 243-member house, the BJP has 53.
In March this year, in the aftermath of the communal violence during Ram Navami processions in the state, Nitish told his deputy, the BJP’s Sushil Kumar Modi, that he would walk out of the alliance if the BJP did not curb the hate mongering by some of its leaders.
There is a constant feeling in the JD(U) that the BJP is presenting it as a partner with no value. It is in stark contrast to the previous time that the two parties were in an alliance. Back then, the BJP allowed Nitish and the JD(U) to take the lead in Bihar. This time, even though Nitish heads the government, the BJP ministers work on their own and that’s one reason, the chief minister doesn’t call cabinet meetings too often.
“Some people are propagating that JD(U) brings no value to the alliance. They should just recall that in 2005, it was because of the JD(U) that the BJP’s seats went up from 37 to 55. In 2010, it went up to 91,” says senior JD(U) leader K C Tyagi. “When Nitish broke away, their seat tally plunged to 53.”
To revive special status demand
The JD(U) also looks set to revive its demands for special status for Bihar. Ever since the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) walked out of the NDA over denial of special status to Andhra Pradesh, the opposition in Bihar has built up pressure on the chief minister, who once championed the cause. In March 2013, when the UPA was in power, Nitish even held a rally in Delhi demanding special status for Bihar.
His party now looking to revive the demand and put pressure on the BJP before 2019. On 29 May, Nitish tweeted a post from his personal blog, once again raising the issue.
“The finance commission should look into the differentiated needs of Bihar and backward states with a special perspective,” he wrote in the blog.
The 15th finance commission is not in favour of granting special status to any state but the JD(U) thinks otherwise.
“The finance commission’s recommendations are not of a holy book. Bihar has not got justice,” said Tyagi. “With what face we will go to the people if we are not able to get Bihar its due. Bihar is a perfect case for granting special status.”
In the coming days, the JD(U) is planning to raise the pitch over special status, both in Patna and Delhi.
Flood package not enough
The chief minister is also unhappy over the flood package given to Bihar by the central government. In August last year, Bihar experienced major flooding that affected 19 districts in which more than 500 people lost their lives. PM Modi, who had visited the flood-hit regions, had announced quick relief of Rs 500 crore with a promise to extend further support needed by the state.
The state government later demanded Rs 7,636 crore as flood relief package. The Centre, however, sanctioned only Rs 1,700 crore, which included the Rs 500 crore promised by the prime minister.
“In effect, we got only Rs 1,220 crore,” says Dinesh Chandra Yadav, disaster management minister of Bihar and a senior JD(U) leader. “We demanded more but what can we do. The Centre only gave us this much.”
The JD(U) is still hopeful that the Modi government will look into the matters raised by the party and that everything will be sorted before the 2019 polls. “Eight to 10 months is enough time to do things and we expect the central government to fulfill the promises made to the people of Bihar,” said Tyagi.
The opposition in Bihar, however, terms the recent moves as theatrics by Nitish and the JD(U) to remain relevant.
“One fails to understand why his demand for special status went into deafeningly silent mode after July 2017, when he mocked the mandate and formed the government with the BJP,” questioned Manoj Jha, senior RJD leader and Rajya Sabha MP. “Now in desperation of the fact that he has almost reached the doors of political oblivion, he is back to the demand only for the purpose of theatrics and spectacle.”
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