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Nitish Vs BJP: Conflict Within Bihar’s NDA Govt; Power Struggle Delays Cabinet Expansion

One month after coming to power, CM Nitish Kumar expressed his helplessness in carrying out the cabinet expansion, which many say has been delayed due to JD-U wanting equal share of seats with BJP
Bihar NDA

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Patna: All is not well within the new National Democratic Alliance government in Bihar. As the Nitish Kumar-led NDA government completes one month of coming to power, leaders of Nitish’s major ally Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have repeatedly questioned deteriorating law and order situation during the period.

Several BJP leaders have publicly made it clear that the failure to check rising crime is the responsibility of Nitish, who took oath as the chief minister on November 16. Further, Bihar Revenue Minister and BJP leader Ram Surat Rai targeted Nitish’s claim of zero tolerance to corruption, saying that corruption was rampant in his department. Another minister from the BJP claimed that the Lok Jan Shakti Party (LJP) of Chirag Paswan will remain a part of the NDA. This is in direct conflict with the demand of Nitish’s Janata Dal-United (JD-U) to oust the LJP for heavily damaging the party during last month’s concluded Assembly elections.

On the other hand, on the eve of completion of his one month in office, Nitish expressed his utter helplessness in carrying out the awaited cabinet expansion. He said that since no proposal of cabinet expansion has come from the BJP, there is at present no scope for induction of new ministers. “When the BJP will feel the need for cabinet expansion, then we will hold a joint discussion over it. So far, no proposal from the BJP has come in this regard,” Nitish said on Tuesday after being asked by media persons about delay in the cabinet expansion.

Political watchers have expressed surprise over the way such an assertive and powerful chief minister, as he used to be, has openly exposed his weakness. He could have easily parried the question, but whatever be the reason, he chose to speak out.

“Nitish is a helpless chief minister now. He is not in a position to take any decision on his own as he used to in the past despite BJP as his ruling ally. This time the situation has changed—Nitish may be the CM, but he is not in control of politics and government because BJP is in the role of big brother. It is a classic case of role reversal in state politics as far as the ruling BJP and JD-U are concerned,” said political watcher Satyanarayan Madan.

Going by senior JD-U leaders close to Nitish, the cabinet expansion was expected in the last week of November itself and later it was stated that the expansion will take place before December 14 as the one-month-long Kharmash—an inauspicious Hindu month—starts from December 15. But it could not happen.

According to a senior BJP leader in Patna, Nitish is adamant on 50% of the berths in the cabinet for the JD-U despite merely having 43 MLAs compared to 73 of the BJP. “The party (BJP) is not ready to give equal number of berths in the cabinet to JD-U. The BJP wants more share as per its MLA numbers. Unlike the past, BJP is not in a mood to play second fiddle to Nitish. This tussle is delaying the cabinet expansion,” the BJP leader told NewsClick.

Another BJP leader, who has been vocal, said the saffron party was no longer in second rank or a junior partner, in fact, it is the biggest ally in the four-party NDA in Bihar. “We are the senior partner in the state and will not give a free hand to Nitish. He has to go by our decision as in past BJP used to go by his decision. Times have changed,” he said.

Bihar’s ruling NDA comprise BJP, JD-U, Vikassheel Insaan Party (VIP) and Hindustan Awam Morcha (HAM). Both VIP and HAM have four MLAs each.

At present, there are 14 ministers in the state cabinet including Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and two deputy chief ministers from the BJP. As per official figures, there are total five ministers from the JD(U) and seven from the BJP with one minister each from the VIP and the HAM.

Now, JD-U leaders have said that the cabinet expansion will take place only after the end of Kharmas on January 14 and more internal conflict within the NDA is expected.

“Both senior and junior partners (BJP and JD-U) will bargain with each other to play their game of supremacy over each other in the coming days. It may see new twists within the NDA in future,” said Soroor Ahmad, a political observer.

With daily reports showing a spurt in crime including murder, rape, kidnapping for ransom, loot, dacoity and growing clout of liquor mafia in the dry state of Bihar, Nitish reviewed the law-and-order situation last week for the third time within a fortnight. Kumar stressed that maintaining law and order was the main priority of the state government and he had instructed top police officials to check rising crimes and take action against criminals.

While the opposition parties were not convinced with Nitish’s assurance and reports of crimes kept emerging, BJP leaders, including MPs and MLAs, have slammed their own government over the poor law and order situation. This has come much to the embarrassment of Nitish, who had earlier rarely missed an opportunity to claim that he established rule of law in the state.

None other than Bihar opposition leader Tejashwi Yadav on Wednesday reminded Nitish that his ally BJP leaders have been raising the issue of functioning of the state government that failed on law and order front.

Chedi Paswan, the BJP MP from Sasaram Lok Sabha seat, directly criticised Rohtas Superintendent of Police after the broad daylight killing of the owner of a petrol pump by criminals two days ago. Paswan said there was complete lawlessness in Rohtas district with criminals frequently committing crimes and the police being unable to prevent them.

Last week, BJP state president Sanjay Jaiswal, who is also a party MP, and BJP’s Darbhanga MLA Sanjay Saraogi had both questioned the increase in crimes and the failure of the police.

Interestingly, the police under the home department are under the charge of Nitish. It is all the more significant as “rule of law” has been the main selling point for Nitish since he came to power in November 2005 while using the same tool to target his political rival Lalu Prasad Yadav, chief of Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD). The JD-U head has repeatedly blamed the RJD chief for “jungle raj” during the latter’s rule from 1990 to 2005 in Bihar.

Taking a dig at all the inner contradictions within the NDA that are surfacing, RJD leader Bhai Virendar advised Nitish to vacate the chair for Tejashwi Yadav in case the JD-U chief was in trouble due to dirty tactics of BJP. “Nitish Ji should come forward to get rid of BJP by offering chair to Tejashwi as mandate was for him only,” he said.

Virendar, a senior RJD leader, is considered close to party chief Lalu Prasad. He has hinted that the opposition is eyeing to take advantage of any differences within the ruling NDA. Tejashwi was chief ministerial candidate of the Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance) comprising Congress and Left parties in the Assembly polls.

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