Patna: Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has demanded a probe into the Pegasus spyware scandal after recently demanding a caste-based Census exercise in 2021. As both these demands are widely seen as contrary to his ally Bharatiya Janata Party’s known stance, speculations have been rife in political circles about whether Nitish’s inner conscience (antaratma) has woken up or it is merely a political statement.
In the past one week, one after the other, Nitish Kumar expressed his differences with the BJP on three issues including the caste-based Census, the Pegasus spyware scandal and population control. After that it was reported that Janata Dal-United (JD-U) chief may take some sudden political decision on the basis of his conscience, as he took twice or thrice in the past that surprised everyone.
After maintaining silence for days, Nitish Kumar finally broke his silence over the much discussed snooping issue in Patna on Monday when he expressed his support for a probe into it.”There should be a probe or investigation. All of us have been hearing about telephone tapping for days and the matter should be discussed (in Parliament) as well if the opposition is demanding it,” he said.
Opposition parties have been protesting over the Pegasus snooping case in the Lok Sabha as well as in the Rajya Sabha, which has crippled the functioning of both Houses of the Parliament.
Further, Nitish Kumar strongly demanded a caste-based Census last week and appealed to the Bharatiya Janata Party-led central government to reconsider its decision. The newly appointed JD-U national president Lalan Singh, considered close to Nitish Kumar, on Monday met Union Home Minister Amit Shah and demanded a caste-based Census. Singh led a delegation of JD-U MPs and submitted a memorandum for a caste-based Census to be conducted.
Singh has made it clear to the BJP that his party will not go back on its demand for a caste-based Census.
These consecutive developments have led a section of people to believe Nitish Kumar, once hailed as part of the secular force against the BJP in Bihar, may have had a change of heart.
However, political commentators in Bihar ruled out the possibility of the latest moves being the products of Nitish Kumar’s conscience. “All these statements are for public consumption and it is not new. By making such statements, he will confuse people to create an illusion and he is an expert in this. I don't see any change in his comfortable alliance with the right wing forces,” said political commentator DM Diwakar.
Diwakar, former director of A N Sinha Institute of Social Studies, Patna, told NewsClick that it was not about the ‘antaratma’ (conscience) of Nitish Kumar as he would have no problem with the BJP and its agenda till his chair was safe.
“Nitish Kumar has demanded a caste-based Census out of compulsion in view of aggressive posture of the opposition Rashtriya Janata Dal and others. Is it not a fact that Nitish understands more than others that the BJP has been pursuing anti-reservation policies? But he is not opposing that for the sake of power,” said Diwakar.
Diwakar recalled that Nitish Kumar had initially taken a different stand on the Citizenship (Amendment) Act but later supported it; his party JD-U voted in the parliament in the favour the favour of the controversial law and helped the bill to pass.
Satyanarayan Madan, a political watcher, said the latest statements of Nitish Kumar on the caste-based Census and Pegasus spyware scandal were face-saving attempts. “There is no chance of any decision on the basis of his so-called conscience. This is simple. His statements are part of his move to sent a message to the public that he too wants a caste-based Census and a probe into Pegasus spyware.It has no political meaning. In the recent past, Nitish Kumar took a different stance on some issues but ended up supporting the BJP’s agenda. This will be repeated again,” Madan said.
Moreover, Madan pointed out the time when Nitish Kumar failed to get his old demand of special category status to Bihar despite sharing power with the BJP-led NDA in the state and at the Centre. “It is despite the fact that a latest report of the NITI Agog described Bihar as the most backward state,” he said.
“After the July 7 Union cabinet expansion, Nitish Kumar wants to show the public that he is not very happy with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision of inducting just one minister from his party. He is rather being compelled to indulge in a balancing act. Otherwise, he is not going anywhere else,” Soroor Ahmad, a political analyst, said. Ahmad further added that a section of Nitish’s party leaders were of the view that he was just dancing to the tunes of the BJP and there would be no possibility of any change in the state.
Ever since the victory of the NDA in the Bihar Assembly elections in 2020, it has been more or less clear that Nitish Kumar is set to play second fiddle to his powerful ally BJP.
Nitish Kumar is likely to continue as the chief minister with the BJP in full control of politics and government, according to discussions everywhere from the streets to political circles across the state.
However, after a long time, Nitish Kumar has been talking differently on a serious issue than the BJP. His stand is bound to put pressure on the BJP, which has so far ignored the Opposition’s demands.
The CM's cry in favour of a caste-based Census is widely seen as a result of the opposition RJD’s aggressive stand against the Centre's decision to not go in for such an exercise. Both Nitish Kumar’s JD-U and Lalu Prasad Yadav's RJD have been 'pro-Mandal' and the caste-based Census is an old demand reiterated by both the parties.
Last month, the Union Minister of State for Home Nityanand Rai told the Lok Sabha that the government had decided that there would be no caste Census other than the enumeration of SC and ST populations. Rai, a senior BJP leader from Bihar, who belongs to a powerful OBC caste, is seen to be moving on the lines of the Centre, which is looking to dilute the issue in a state known to be caste-ridden.
Nitish Kumar, who belongs to an agrarian OBC caste (Kurmi) himself, said that a caste-based Census exercise should at least be conducted once. He said it would help to know the number of people belonging to different poor and marginalised castes in different regions. The last caste Census was conducted in 1931 before India’s independence from the British.
The CM recalled that the Bihar Legislative Assembly passed a unanimous resolution for conducting a caste-based census in February 2019 and in February 2020 consecutively, and had sent it to the Centre. Notably, the BJP and JDU had supported the resolution calling for a caste-based Census in 2020. However, the BJP do not look too keen on it now.
In 2019, the CM had stressed on the need for a caste-based Census saying that people had a right to know the strengths and weaknesses based on different parameters, including population. The data is expected to expose several myths surrounding the development of backward and marginalised people and help in the formulation of schemes for their socio-economic progress, he said.
Meanwhile, the opposition RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav announced to stage a state-wide protest on August 7 in support of a caste-based Census in Bihar.