Patna: Less than seven months since Nitish Kumar took oath as the Bihar chief minister for the 7th time, the internal strife in the ruling NDA alliance in the state is getting more pronounced. The larger ally, the BJP, is ratcheting up communal issues, much to the discomfort of Nitish who puts a premium on his secular image. None of the JD(U)’s Muslim candidates won in the last election.
But even as senior leaders dismiss reports of a rift between the BJP and JD(U), the smaller allies such as the Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) and Vikassheel Insan Party (VIP) are firing salvos at the saffron party. Both HAM and VIP have four MLAs each in the coalition government.
The statements by smaller allies criticising the BJP, according to several leaders, have the blessings of Nitish Kumar.
“The chief minister is uneasy with the BJP playing communal politics. Even though we have not got Muslim votes, Nitish Kumar would not like to be bracketed with BJP’s saffron politics. Nitish ji has repeatedly said that we would not tolerate communalism”, a JD(U) MLA who did not want to be named told ThePrint.
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The blast inside a madrasa in Bihar’s Banka earlier this week has only added fuel to the fire. Amid reports that the National Investigation Agency (NIA) is likely to take over the probe into the blast which left the imam of the nearby mosque dead and four others injured, Banka SP Ashwani Gupta Thursday ruled out extremist links. He said the explosion happened due to a crude bomb kept in a container.
The district administration said it was a private madrasa and the state government did not have anything to do with it.
However, soon after the blast, a section of BJP leaders led by MLA Haribhushan Thakur demanded the closure of all madrasas in the state, calling them “breeding grounds for terrorists”.
After his remarks, state minority welfare minister Zama Khan, at a press conference Thursday, denounced Thakur.
This escalated the war of words with the BJP’s Bihar unit slamming NDA allies, particularly Jitan Ram Manjhi’s HAM, for criticising Thakur’s statement.
“Haribhushan Thakur is like a brother. But he has no right to paint every madrasa in the state as a breeding ground for terrorism”, Khan told ThePrint.
The BJP allies in the state also seemed to have found their voice after the saffron party’s defeat in the West Bengal election.
Former CM Manjhi, whose party was denied an additional ministerial seat in Nitish’s cabinet, has been the BJP’s most vocal critic on the madrasa issue. “When Dalits get education they are dubbed as Naxals. When Muslims educate themselves they are dubbed as extremist”, he said.
Even VIP chief and minister Mukesh Sahni, who is angry over not being given a full-term MLC seat, took a dig at the BJP. “It is time to stop making statements and ensure government functions for the welfare of the people, The promise of 19 lakh jobs should be remembered”, he said.
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BJP vs JD(U)
The escalation of war of words has sent jitters in the NDA, with former deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi appealing to allies to refrain from issuing public statements against each other.
“The difference should be discussed in an internal forum. The NDA partners should right now work for bringing relief to Covid-hit population instead of giving irresponsible statements”, he told The Print.
He stressed that there was no threat to the Nitish government in Bihar. “If someone meets anyone forcefully it does not have any meaning,” he said, referring to the meeting between Lalu Yadav’s elder son and RJD leader Tej Pratap with Manjhi.
However, the sparring over the madrasa blast is not the only sign that all is not well within the ruling alliance. In the past few weeks too, BJP leaders have criticised the Nitish government and issued statements over attacks on Dalits and alleged religious conversion.
On June 4, BJP state president Sanjay Jaiswal raised questions over governance. He said that Dalits and Extremely Backward Classes (EBCs) were being victimised by Muslims and that there was a rise in the number of incidents across the state. He also said that the government should take these incidents seriously and protect the Dalits and EBCs.
On the same day, Bihar mines and geology minister Janak Ram wrote a letter to the district authorities in Jamui about the alleged forced religious conversion of Dalit girls. On June 6, he wrote a letter to the district administration of Gopalganj alleging that a Dalit girl had been kidnapped and married off to a Muslim. “I have written the letters and hope the district administrations will take action,” he told ThePrint.
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NITI Aayog report
The NITI Aayog’s Index for Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 2020-21, which has ranked Bihar as the worst performer, has also caused some heartburn among state leaders.
Criticising the report, senior JDU leader Upendra Kushwaha defended the performance of the Nitish government and demanded special status category for Bihar. The demand is being viewed as a move to embarrass the Modi government since it has never favoured special status to any state, and the distinction was done away with by the 14th Finance Commission.
“BJP leaders assert that there is no threat to Nitish government. But after remaining in power for almost 15 years with Nitish the party realises that it must retain and expand its social base. The Dalits constitute 16% of the voters and EBCs 29% of voters. The party must make inroads if it wants to emerge a major power in Bihar,” said a BJP MP who did not wish to be named.
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