Why Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar Welcomes President Draupadi Murmu
The Narendra Modi government did not invite President Draupadi Murmu to inaugurate the new Parliament building. The Prime Minister himself inaugurated it on May 28 this year, drawing flak from Opposition parties for ignoring the first Adivasi woman head of the Republic of India.
But the Bihar government invited the President to launch its 4th Agriculture Roadmap on Wednesday, October 18, and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav accorded her a befittingly grand reception. The Agriculture Roadmap is known as the Bihar Chief Minister’s “pet project”.
Murmu also expressed her congratulations generously with kind words about the state.
“I am also a Bihari”, she said, explaining how her home state of Odisha was a part of Bihar until 1935, which means they share a common history and values. “Bihar has played a key role in making India a developed country. It’s the land of Buddha where there is no place for ill-will,” she said.
In a way, the President gave full marks to the Nitish government on the progress and social amity scores. The Prime Minister is consistently under fire from the opposition parties, which have united under the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) banner, on the performance of his government on the social harmony and development fronts. The INDIA parties have consistently questioned him and charged his government with pursuing “aggressive Hindutva,” which divides society for electoral gains and for promoting his friendly corporate houses at the cost of the poor.
Be it former Presidents late APJ Abdul Kalam, late Pranab Mukherjee, Ram Nath Kovind, or President Draupadi Murmu, Nitish Kumar has welcomed each of them during his over 17-year tenure as Bihar Chief Minister. So, why did the Prime Minister ignore the President at an important event like inaugurating the new Parliament building? And why did Nitish, who could have inaugurated the state event without inviting the President, make sure to invite her?
Replying to such queries, the veteran socialist leader and Rashtriya Janata Dal national vice president Shivanand Tiwari said, “It shows the different political cultures in which Nitish and Modi have been brought up. It was unbecoming of the Prime Minister to ignore the President, and himself inaugurate the Parliament building. It was unacceptable. On the other hand, Nitish or for that matter any other leader in a democracy cannot even think of doing as Modi did with Murmu, who is, incidentally, the first tribal woman President. It shows the difference between the cultures of the BJP and the socialist parties.”
The Janata Dal (United) spokesperson, Anjum Ara, also recalled, “The Chief Minister had invited [former President late] Pranab Mukherjee to launch the second agriculture roadmap and [former President] Ram Nath Kovind for the third one. Nitish Kumar showed [former President late] APJ Abdul Kalam an agriculture site at Bihata, following which the scientist-President and ‘missile man of India’ had given scientific inputs to the Bihar government to augment its agricultural production.”
The Bihar Cabinet has sanctioned Rs 1.62 lakh crore for the Fourth Agriculture Roadmap. The five-year roadmap spanning from 2023 to 2028 aims to decrease the use of pesticides in fields, ensure irrigation facilities in all the plots, encourage the production of lemongrass and menthe varieties in low-fertility areas, employ the youth in the agriculture sector, and create 100 seed hubs and 20 millet hubs in the state. The production of paddy and wheat has doubled, and so has the output of honey, makhana [lotus seeds], and fish production. Bihar has created a record of sorts—it is at the top of the table among Indian states in producing honey. And it has become self-reliant in fish.
The Bihar Chief Minister is, apparently, good at setting precedents that have gone a long way in consolidating his position and putting his political rivals on the back foot.
Bihar was the first state to conduct a caste survey and publish its report on October 2, the day India marks the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. The socio-economic findings of the survey will be published by the government of Bihar in November, it has said. Now, numerous regional opposition parties, and the Congress party, are breathing down the neck of the Prime Minister to conduct caste census at the national level.
The Congress has promised it would conduct a caste survey in all election-bound states, including Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Rajasthan, and others, if it is voted into power.
Congress leader and Member of Parliament Rahul Gandhi has repeatedly cited the example that only three officers among 90 Secretaries to the government of India are from the Other Backward Classes (OBC). He has repeatedly questioned the Modi government for neglecting the OBCs, Dalits and minorities in his party and governance.
The representation of the OBCs, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes is an issue the people are talking about in the states going to the Assembly elections in November. The caste census and the representation of the OBCs are emerging as a dominant issue in the run-up to the 2024 elections.
The Nitish government has also set precedents in giving special quotas to women, members of the Extremely Backward Castes (the EBCs are the poorest among the backward communities) and the Mahadalits, who are the most deprived sections among the Scheduled Castes, in government jobs and also at the panchayat and local body levels.
Through his pro-women and pro-poor policies, Nitish has not let the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) make inroads in the EBCs and the Scheduled Castes in Bihar, the way it has done in Uttar Pradesh and other north Indian states where it is in power.
Bihar is attempting to set an example in terms of youth employment, a longstanding challenge for the state. Jobs are an issue on which the Prime Minister has failed to fulfil his government’s promises. When he was in the Opposition, Tejashwi Yadav had promised he would provide jobs to ten lakh aspirants if voted to power. After joining the Nitish-led Cabinet as Deputy Chief Minister in August 2022, the Bihar government has claimed to have provided four lakh jobs. The state government has been advertising thousands of vacancies in local newspapers on a daily basis.
Tejashwi recently said, “Bihar has broken records in giving employment. No other state can match Bihar in terms of employing the youth, and we are doing so when the Prime Minister has failed despite his promise of 1.5 crore jobs to the young per annum.”
In the context of empowering women, too, the Nitish Kumar government has set precedents. Bihar was the first state to give 33% reservation to women in jobs and local bodies. The state has the highest number of women police force in the country, thanks to the preferential treatment for women since he came to power in 2005.
The author is a senior journalist, media educator, and researcher in folklore. The views are personal.
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