Patna: “The officials don’t listen to me. What’s the use of being a minister,” Mukesh Sahani, Bihar’s minister for animal husbandry and fisheries and chief of the Vikassheel Insaan Party (VIP), asked in front of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar Friday.
That was just the latest instance of a perennial refrain. Complaints about the dominance of the bureaucracy over elected legislators in Nitish’s government have surfaced time and again over the years.
At the meeting of National Democratic Alliance (NDA) legislators Friday — marking the start of Bihar’s month-long budget session — another leader of an allied party, Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) chief and former CM Jitan Ram Manjhi, backed up Sahani.
“There is a complete dominance of officials and legislators are humiliated. In a government function, officials are given the front seat while legislators get the back seats,” said Manjhi. But there was no response from Nitish, sources said.
However, Janata Dal (United) spokesperson Rajiv Ranjan denied that there was anything abnormal in Bihar. “It is an alliance and everyone has his aspirations and thoughts. But CM Nitish Kumar knows how to utilise the officials, and he has told the officials to respect legislators,” he told ThePrint.
Speaking to ThePrint, Sahani discussed how he had brought up the matter at the NDA meeting. “This government is not run by the elected legislators. It is run by officials,” he added, and alleged that his department’s budget had been slashed without him being informed.
Sahani, a former Bollywood set designer who has projected himself as a leader of the Mallah (fishermen) community, is president of the VIP, which he founded in 2018. He is a Member of the Legislative Council, and his party also has three MLAs in the Assembly.
However, despite the ruling NDA’s slim majority, Sahani may not be in the strongest position to have his complaints heard. All three of his MLAs in Bihar are former BJP leaders, and the VIP is currently contesting the Assembly polls in BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh, with Sahani having said in public meetings that he would oust UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath in 2022 and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2024.
“We could have ignored Yogi Adityanath, but how can we ignore the words he has used against our PM,” said a senior BJP leader, who hinted that the axe may fall on Sahani soon.
Sahani isn’t the only minister in the Bihar government to have problems with officials. A BJP minister, speaking on condition of anonymity, told ThePrint that the principal secretary of his department doesn’t respond to his calls.
Last year, JD(U) minister Madan Sahni went public against his department and threatened to quit, while BJP minister Janak Ram alleged that officials didn’t listen to him.
BJP MLA Nitish Mishra had said in the Assembly last year that officials did not invite legislators to government functions or inform them about development projects in their constituencies. His charge was supported by several MLAs cutting across party lines.
Nitish retorted that he had issued orders several times to all officials that local legislators should be invited to government functions.
Speaking to ThePrint, Mishra said, “I wrote a letter to the general administration department (also under the chief minister) that officials were not responding to my letters asking for information. The department wrote back to me claiming that it had written to all officials, directing them to respond to the queries asked by legislators.”
He added that he had written another letter in November last year, listing 102 queries that various officials had failed to answer. “Till date, the department has not responded to that letter. The situation of the bureaucracy dominating the legislators is alarming. If officials do not respond to my queries, it is not Nitish Mishra being weakened. The institution is weakened,” he said.
Post-retirement positions, ‘council of secretaries’
CM Nitish Kumar has been facing accusations of weakening legislators and favouring officials since 2005. He has continued to repose his confidence in chosen bureaucrats, appointing several to post-retirement positions.
While former IAS officer R.C.P. Singh — who once served as Nitish’s personal secretary and principal secretary — joined the JD(U) and is now the Union Minister of Steel, other ex-bureaucrats have been given positions such as chief information commissioner and chairman of the Bihar Public Service Commission.
Former chief secretary Anjani Kumar Singh, who retired more than five years ago, is still an advisor to the chief minister, while another ex-chief secretary, Deepak Kumar, was made principal secretary to the CM.
N.K. Choudhary, a former Patna University professor, told ThePrint, “Bihar is not ruled by a council of ministers as mandated by the Constitution. It is ruled by a council of secretaries. There is a super secretary or CEO who calls himself the chief minister.”
“It is being governed by a handful of officials who are corrupt and inefficient. It is a very unfortunate situation and a slur on democracy,” he added.
(Edited by Rohan Manoj)